Davison Kaiyo, Correspondent
CHINA is the greatest trading partner for most Sadc countries and thus most citizens of the region travel to the Asian country for business and the region also receives a lot of guests from China.
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China, the region has been on high alert. The world is shrinking, and the proximity of the Sadc region is brought about by trade relations that have developed and deepened over the years. The region is, therefore, vulnerable to the spread of the Coronavirus owing to the volume of trade and travel between Asia and the region.
The virus has made global headlines in recent weeks and in Africa
Cote d’Ivoire became the first country on the continent to test a suspected Coronavirus case, when a female student arrived at an airport in the capital Abidjan with suspicious symptoms.
In Sadc the first suspected case of the Coronavirus was recorded in Botswana on January 30, 2020, although there were earlier reports that in Zambia there was a recorded case. This, however, was refuted by the Zambian Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya, and this calls for more vigilance on the part of Sadc member states. According to reports in Botswana, the suspected case was registered at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport upon the suspected infected person’s arrival aboard an Ethiopian Airways plane from China.
Now that the virus is on Sadc shores, the need for member states to be vigilant cannot be overemphasised. Due to regional integration and globalisation the world is fast shrinking. This has its pros and cons, and one of those cons is the fast spread of diseases across borders as exhibited by the spread of Coronavirus from its epicentre in China to other parts of the world.
This means that the virus can easily spread across the borders to other member states. The challenge of Sadc region is the porous borders and cases can spread undetected across the borders. Screening is done at the points of entry for early diagnosis and treatment.
This raises the point of capacity. Does the Sadc member states have the capacity to screen for the virus? One also needs to look at the issue of porous borders. Besides the issue of borders, officially Sadc citizens travel across borders, and the risk of the disease spreading across is very high.
The region needs to be adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of Coronavirus infections, and to share full data with the World Health Organisation (WHO). As in the case of Botswana, the suspected case has been placed in isolation and investigations are on-going.
The Sadc secretariat must be commended for issuing an advisory on the virus. This will enable the “Sadc Secretariat staff and the public in Sadc Member States can understand the basic tenets of how to identify the symptoms of the disease, the mode of contamination and the precautionary measures to apply.”
The advisory has also called upon the member states to be proactive and identify, isolate and care for patients early, including providing optimised care for infected patients. This includes a mandatory fever screening at point of entry and isolation. This is very critical in order to curb this “novel” virus. Member states need to take this advisory message seriously, and take all measures necessary to prevent the spread of the virus across borders.
In the event of an emergency, the sharing of information across member states is also of paramount importance, and as such member states are encouraged to “Communicate critical risk and event information to all communities and counter misinformation; minimise social and economic impact through multisectoral partnerships.” This will enable the public to stay informed and for authorities to take appropriate measures to combat the virus.
Research into the epidemiology and natural history of the virus is ongoing. Although the origin of the disease in Wuhan City, China, is suspected to be zoonotic (that is animal origin), evidence suggests that current spread is from human to human. The majority of the Coronavirus cases were linked to a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in Wuhan City, suggesting that the virus has a possible animal origin.
According to the WHO, the incubation period is about two to 10 days, although some literature has cited up to 14 days. More evidence is needed to determine if asymptomatic patients are contagious, although the preliminary evidence suggests that, like SARS and Ebola, all the contacts reported were patients who had symptoms.
Typically, patients exhibit flu like symptoms and cough. The disease can be complicated by shortness of breath, multi-organ failure and death. Most fatalities reported were elderly people or persons with pre-existing co-morbidities, signifying that these are the population groups that are most at risk. Sadc, therefore, needs to be proactive to prevent further spread of the virus in the region.
The virus, is thus, a respiratory virus. As alluded to before the main symptoms are fever, flu-like syndrome, headache, pain in the joints and muscles at first. Secondly, respiratory signs may appear with cough, sputum and shortness of breath, or pneumonia, which can be severe and lead to death.
Since the symptoms of the 2019-nCoV are similar to those of the common-cold (flu-like) virus, the concern should be whether the affected person has travelled to countries that have an active outbreak of the Coronavirus (e.g. China), or has been in contact with an infected person, essentially someone who has travelled to China and has developed the symptoms described above.
Like any other viral illness, this virus is more fatal in people with reduced immunity (HIV patients, the elderly etc.) than in those with good health.
Due to the complexities of the virus, there is need for multi-sectorial response and cooperation by member states to make sure the region is safe. The multi-sectorial response include close working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) for up-to-date information and monitoring of the movement of the virus. The region must also work closely with the international community, particularly the Chinese. Citizens need constant official updates from the member states to avoid falling prey to the misinformation being spread on social media.
It is, therefore, recommended that the Sadc secretariat in close collaboration with member states issues daily updates through official channels to keep the public informed and abreast of developments until the situation improves.