Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference, 7 May 2020
Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us.
I’m pleased to be joined by colleagues from the Economic Commission for Africa and the Executive Chairman of Africa Health Business, because we know the COVID-19 pandemic is having significant economic impacts, and particularly in vulnerable communities, we need balanced action to save lives and livelihoods.
The private sector has a vital role to play, from providing care to those affected, to manufacturing the key items required for the response, as well as innovating and developing new tools like vaccines and medicines.
There are now more than 51,000 confirmed cases and 2000 have lost their lives across the African continent.
We are very concerned that almost 1000 African health workers have been infected with COVID-19. We know that most African countries already have catastrophic shortages of health workers and when our frontline workers fall ill or are absent from work, communities do not have access to essential services like immunization, safe deliveries and treatment for chronic and infectious diseases, in addition of course to what impact these shortages will have on our ability responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to global shortages of personal protective equipment, our frontline health workers, and other frontline workers, remain at increased risk of infection. We are working with countries and partners to replenish supplies so that health-care workers can safely continue to provide routine services, that I’ve mentioned.
As this pandemic evolves, it is incredibly important that countries use data-driven, evidence-based approaches. We have modelled the implications of widespread community transmission in each country of the African Region, based on country-specific social, environmental characteristics and peoples vulnerabilities to COVID-19.
The results predict a high risk of exposure in geographically smaller countries and in countries where people are able to move around easily. As we have seen some of the larger countries, like Algeria, South Africa and Cameroon, be severely affected.
Among the one billion people in the African Region, the model predicts that if no containment measures are put in place, and luckily, we know that this is not the case up to now, up to 26% could be infected in the first year, and up to 190,000 people could die. The epidemic would peak within four weeks of the start of widespread community transmission.
This would overwhelm health systems, leading to more than three million COVID-19 hospitalisations, of which around 100,000 would require oxygen support and more than 50,000 would require support to breathe. It would also lead to reduced access to routine health services, which I’ve mentioned are extremely important to be sustained, so that communities are not vulnerable to other health issues.
All countries in the Region are using these results through our country offices, to inform containment actions, and a paper summarizing these models is currently in press in the British Medical Journal Global Health after extensive peer review.
I have to say here that there is a range of modelling tools that are being used and WHO is working with partners to set-up a coalition, so that we share the methodologies and have rather consistent advice to countries on this.
We know that to stop the spread of the virus, the key public health measures need to be in place in every community, even where cases have not been reported, readiness capacities should be prepositioned. I’d like to reiterate that these measures are surveillance, identifying cases early, testing people early, tracing their contacts, and then isolating both the cases and the contacts to limit the spread of the virus. We have seen countries like Namibia and Seychelles follow closely these measures closely and they have not reported any cases now for one month.
We are working with countries to leverage the assets that they already have in place, in terms of what was done to prepare for Ebola, some of the equipment for testing that’s been used for tuberculosis and polio, and to mobilize people and repair supply chains globally. We are working very hard on this with colleagues across the UN and other partners so that supplies that are needed, are there to take the response beyond capital cities into the hinterland and local levels.
The findings that I have shared today, and other emerging analyses, will inform our policy and technical advice to governments so that they adjust the response based on this evidence.
To stop this pandemic, the solutions we implement, together with countries and partners, must be based on evidence and scientific findings, and therefore this includes conducting rigorous clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of any treatments that are offered, in line with international standards.
We are very convinced that with science and solidarity, we can stop this pandemic.
Thank you very much.