Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia all confirmed their first coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours as the global pandemic picks up pace around the world.
Kenya’s health ministry confirmed the its first coronavirus case on Friday, prompting the nation to put its emergency preparedness efforts to the test. The 27-year old Kenyan woman arrived in the country on Mar. 5 via a US-originated flight with a layover in London. The health secretary Mutahi Kagwe assured the public the ministry is tracing all contacts including recording names of passengers on her inbound flight.
Last week, after a court order was issued ordering the state to prepare for a potential outbreak, Kenya’s Health and Public Works ministries scrambled to construct the nation’s first coronavirus treatment facility. The 120-bed maternity ward turned coronavirus “containment and treatment” unit is housed at Nairobi’s Mbagathi Hospital and equipped with ventilators, monitors, refrigerators, infusion pumps, diagnostic facilities and mobile ultrasound and protective equipment gifted by the US Center for Disease Control.
For East Africa’s largest economy, treatment facilities may not be enough to contain the virus’ spread. Kenya depends heavily on tourism and trade as a vital aspects of the economy making it difficult to issue a full scale ban of flights from affected areas. In preparation for the potential blow that coronavirus may wreak Kenya’s government has committed 500 million Kenyan shilling ($5 million) for a post-coronavirus public relations campaign.
On Thursday night Mar. 12, Ghana confirmed its first two cases of Covid-19 who returned to the country from Norway and Turkey. The health minister said both patients are in isolation and the government has initiated processes for contact tracing.
The person who travelled from Turkey is a citizen of Ghana while local media reports that the other person is a diplomat at the Norwegian embassy in Accra. Both have been in the country for a week.
The cases were confirmed a day after president Nana Akufo-Addo announced $100 million to “fund the expansion of infrastructure, purchase of materials and equipment, and public education,” to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
While there has not been a run on supermarkets, in Accra, some people have been seen wearing masks and gloves. Public buildings are also offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers to visitors at their entrances. Before now, all of Ghana’s neighbors, Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire have recorded cases.
On Friday, Ethiopia confirmed its first coronavirus case, a 48-year old Japanese man who arrived in the country via Burkina Faso, which earlier this week confirmed two cases. The country is currently tracing his previous contacts and says he is in “good condition.”
There has long been a concern that Sub-Saharan Africa in particular could be devastated by a severe outbreak of a virus due to what the World Health Organization has described as the sub-region’s “fragile health systems.” But so far, the spread of virus cases has been relatively slow, mostly in single digits except in South Africa (24) and Senegal (10) so far.
However, the coronavirus has spread quickly to more countries and it is likely that Sub-Saharan Africa is simply behind the curve in terms of the virus spread compared with other continents. The challenge for all African countries will be to keep track of index cases and trace back all contacts of the individuals.
African countries are increasingly concerned about the arrival of international visitors and their own nationals coming from Europe in particular where the vast majority of Africa’s cases have originated.
Some countries including Uganda have put in place stricter controls and checks on visitors from Europe.
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