How Africa can Prepare for the Next Pandemic
How Africa can Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Yet another highly infectious disease is here to challenge our world. On the 31st, January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
Millions of individuals around the world are threatened by this pandemic. Africa particularly is more vulnerable to the pandemic due to several socio-cultural, healthcare, economic and political factors.
Healthcare system in low- and medium-income countries (LMICs) is fragile. Unfortunately, very few African countries have sufficient and appropriate diagnostic capacity to handle such menace.
Prior to the COVID-19 disease pandemic, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) emerged. Some factors were attributed to the scale of the outbreak. These factors include shoddy health system and few critical care personnel. Inadequate budgets, loopholes in international borders and lack of political commitment are also contributing factors.
This brought about the need to build sturdy health systems in order to reduce the potential for similar future outbreaks.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak has again demonstrated the importance of having these requirements in place. The pandemic reminds African leaders that inadequate investment in public health of one country is a threat to Africa.
It also necessitates a reexamination of healthcare architecture to promote an approach to sustainability in Africa. COVID-19 has put greater value on data, research and epidemiological surveillance.
Albeit it seems Africa is more reactive than proactive.
In April 2001, the African Union countries pledged to allocate a minimum of 15% of annual budget to improve the health sector.
This is known as the ‘Abuja declaration’. However, it seems many African countries are struggling and haven’t met this target. The capability of a nation’s public health plays a key role in the defence against emerging infectious disease. Yet many African countries suffer from under-investment.
The future of Africa’s public health security relies on the implementation of appropriate strategies. Strong political leadership and coordinated efforts of governments are also important. Triage and implementation of minimum WHO infection and prevention control requirements should be initiated as preparedness against outbreaks.
The realization that the economic costs of a pandemic are huge. It is inconsequential in comparison to investments in research and prevention. This should lead to increased health budgets and greater investment in research, vaccines, therapeutics and medical supplies.
This should, therefore, encourage domestic production of health commodities to avoid shortage of supplies and panic buying.
Supply chains should be strengthened and brought closer to locations where materials would be needed. Consequently, the cost of tariffs and taxes on imported medical supplies and equipment will reduce significantly.
Hospitals in most African countries are already operating at maximum capacity with huge existing workload.
More health facilities should be constructed and properly equipped. This is important for critical care such as ICU beds, ventilators and monitors. More personnel should be trained in critical care.
Critical health care equipment and health personnel should be distributed in secondary health facilities. This should not be limited only to tertiary hospitals. Health facilities should strategize on space, supply and personnel management. This will help to prepare them for a pandemic and adequate care can be given to patients.
The fundamental constraint beyond political and managerial challenges on pandemic preparedness are limited in scientific understanding and technical capacity. If we do not improve laboratory capacities, disease detection and surveillance will be delayed. This will consequently affect the rapidity of public health response.
Laboratories should, therefore, be expanded with diagnostic capacities and trained personnel to respond to an outbreak from the source. The outcry of virtually every country is the lack of equipment and supplies to test and protect against COVID-19.
Infrastructure and equipment already put in place require long term sustainability. Pay higher wages to medical staff, do not neglect their hazard allowance, so they do not migrate to developed countries.
In addition, the acceptance and use of digital health technologies should be encouraged.
This is crucial so that other communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are not sidelined during the pandemic.
Efforts to reduce exposure to COVID-19 has helped to reveal that virtual consultations are effective for triaging care. Clinical guidance should be shared and emotional support provided for patients with other morbidities. Peradventure, telemedicine can help us get closer to achieving the goal of universal health coverage.
Prioritization of good mobilization and community engagement can be effective in detecting outbreaks. A shift in food habits is also required. Human appetite for meat from domestic and wildlife has contributed to the bridging of pathogens to mankind.
We need vaccines and therapeutic alternatives. However, the emerging strains are unpredictable and a vaccine will not be essential to preventing initial events.
Finally, a thorough long-term strategy from the Africa Union via African CDC and other specialized organs is vital. This will contribute significantly to African leadership, public health capacity building and training and research. With these, challenges of the current and future public health threats will be met.