Charities donate $113m to help Africa battle coronavirus

Thursday February 6 2020

Coronavirus

A health worker checks the temperature of a traveller as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on January 30, 2020. PHOTO | REUTERS  

VERAH OKEYO
By VERAH OKEYO
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UK based The Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation are committing millions of dollars to help African countries battle the novel coronavirus, if and when it should come to the continent.

In a statement on Wednesday, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will commit up to $100 million for the global response to the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) just a few days after the Wellcome Trust announced $13 million.

The money will be used to “strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.”

Gates CEO Mark Suzman said that they are part of a people that want to “help countries protect their most vulnerable citizens and accelerate the development of the tools to bring this epidemic under control"

Of this amount, $20 million is specifically for Africa to help “public health authorities strengthen their emergency operations centres, implement effective disease surveillance efforts and improve their capacity to safely isolate and treat confirmed cases”

The money will be given to the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), a non-profit alliance of field epidemiology and laboratory training programmes operating in more than 30 African countries.

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In Kenya, AFENET partners with the Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), a training programme for disease responders in universities that was established in 2004.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is also earmarked for support.

Wellcome Trust’s Jeremy Farrar said that there are many unknowns in the disease and therefore research is critical to “understand how the virus spreads, who is most at risk and what the most effective public health measures are, as well as developing diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. These must be available to everyone”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, citing the risks the virus poses globally and the need for a worldwide coordinated effort to enhance preparedness, especially in fragile settings.

By Wednesday, the virus had claimed more than 563 lives globally, and there are over 27,000 cases in more than 25 countries.

Africa has not reported any cases of Corona viruses yet but experts have expressed their fear at the virus arriving in Africa due to the fragile health systems.

Dr Isaac Ndere, a medical epidemiologist from Washington State University Global Health Programme in Kenya told Daily Nation that if the virus affected China, which he considers a steadier health system, then Africa’s health systems would find it difficult to cope.

His colleague Dr Eric Osoro told The EastAfrican that the closest the region has gone to experiencing the disease is the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009.