COVID-19

WHO to Africa: COVID-19 containment is possible, ‘Don’t lose hope’

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC2R9F9133SB

Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC2R9F9133SB

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. Streamed live on Friday, 17 April.
  • Though cases are rising across the African continent, WHO officials stressed the virus could still be contained.

Don’t lose hope. That was the message from officials to the continent of Africa in a week when reported cases there spiked 51% and deaths jumped 60%.

Despite the rise, containment was still possible, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead. The message was in response to a question from an African journalist during the briefing's media question and answer session.

Testing capabilities had strengthened across in the continent, officials noted, including the 1 million tests the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for COVID-19 announced would be rolled out across the continent next week.

Key supplies were also being made available, some coming through Solidarity Flight shipments, a WHO programme delivering protective equipment and other supplies to countries around the world.

Additionally, the continent had experience tackling epidemics and other viral outbreaks, including Ebola and polio. As a result, the officials said, the continent had proven its ability to mount a response to infectious diseases, find cases and engage and empower communities. “There are real capacities across Africa to do the job that needs to be done,” said Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

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To be sure, officials noted, hard work is ahead. Containment will require adequate testing, handwashing solutions in areas without running water and making treatment centres available to care for patients appropriately. “We need to do more,” said Van Kerhove. “It's going to be a hard fight.”

Still, the virus had not yet spread past the point of containment. “We believe a lot can be done to mitigate the impact of the virus,” Ryan added. “And we believe that we need to accelerate those efforts as the number of cases grows on a daily basis on the continent.”

“I don't want you to lose hope,” added Van Kerkhove. “Containment is possible."

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