‘Fragile’ Africa prepares for high risk of coronavirus spread

By Juliette Jabkhiro and Kate Kelland

DAKAR/LONDON (Reuters) – An isolation ward stands ready at a hospital in Khartoum, Sudan. Laboratories in Senegal and Madagascar have the testing equipment they need. Passengers arriving at airports in Gambia, Cameroon and Guinea are being screened for fever and other viral symptoms.

Africa’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says it has activated its emergency operation centre in the face of what global health officials say is a high risk the coronavirus disease epidemic that began in China will spread to its borders.

On a poor continent where healthcare capacity is limited, early detection of any outbreak will be crucial.

The fear is great that a spreading epidemic of coronavirus infections will be hard to contain in countries where health systems are already overburdened with cases of Ebola, measles, malaria and other deadly infectious diseases.

“The key point is to limit transmission from affected countries and the second point is to ensure that we have the capacity to isolate and also to provide appropriate treatment to people that may be infected,” said Michel Yao, emergency operations program manager at the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is barring its citizens from flying to China. Burkina Faso has asked Chinese citizens to delay travelling to Burkina, and is warning that they face quarantine if they do. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have all suspended flights to China.

“What we are emphasising to all countries is that they should at least have early detection,” Yao said.

“We know how fragile the health system is on the African continent and these systems are already overwhelmed by many ongoing disease outbreaks, so for us it is critical to detect earlier to that we can prevent the spread.”

John Nkengasong, Africa’s CDC director, told a briefing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this week that the activation of the emergency operation centre would create a single incident system to manage the outbreak across the continent.

The Africa CDC will also hold a training workshop in Senegal for 15 African countries on laboratory diagnosis, he said.

The continent has more than doubled the number of laboratories now equipped to diagnose the viral infection, this week adding facilities in Ghana, Madagascar and Nigeria and to established testing labs in South Africa and Sierra Leone.

“By the end of the week we expect that an additional 24 countries (in Africa) will receive the reagents needed to conduct the tests and will have the test running,” a spokeswoman for the WHO’s Africa Region told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa, Benoit Nyemba in Kinshasa, Thiam Ndiaga in Ouagadougou, Josiane Kouagheu in Douala, Pap Saine in Banjul and Saliou Samb in Conakry. Writing and reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Pravin Char)

High-tech mapping, apps fight deadly dengue outbreak in Honduras – medical charity

High-tech mapping, apps fight deadly dengue outbreak in Honduras – medical charity
By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – High-tech mapping and mobile phone apps are being used to combat dengue fever in Honduras as the Central American nation struggles to fight the worst outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease on record, medical charity MSF said on Thursday.

Honduras has one of the Americas’ highest incidence rates of dengue, with some 92,000 suspected cases of the infectious disease and 250 deaths recorded this year, according to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

Across the Americas, more than 2.7 million people have caught the virus and 1,206 have died so far in 2019, making this year’s dengue fever outbreak the highest on record in the region, according to latest PAHO figures.

Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said it is using GIS mapping technology and a mobile phone app as key tools to combat the virus and plan their work.

The technology allows health workers to identify dengue hotspots and direct prevention and awareness-raising campaigns to the most-affected areas.

“It allows you to see the evolution of the epidemic in each neighborhood and city and all over the country per day, per week,” said Pascal Olivo, MSF logistics coordinator for Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

“We have adapted our strategy accordingly because we can see the evolution of the epidemic on the maps,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Using a mobile app to record data, about 20 MSF health workers have been asking residents up to 10 questions about the dengue virus and what is being done to prevent its spread in their neighborhoods.

Questions include whether residents have cleaned water tanks and buckets in their homes – ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes – if and when local authorities have carried out fumigation, or whether any relative has caught dengue.

The data, along with the GIS maps produced based on data collected by MSF, health authorities and public hospitals, allows health workers to build a timely geographic overview of areas where the virus is most acute and in need of targeting.

As the region faces new mosquito-borne outbreaks, there is a growing need to find new ways to monitor and reduce the spread of infectious diseases like dengue and Zika, which includes using tech and giving affected communities tech-based solutions.

Aid groups are accordingly embracing technology from geographic information system (GIS) mapping tools, drones and satellite imagery to map areas affected by conflict, disease outbreaks and natural disasters, along with mass vaccination programs.

“In the past two to three years we have seen an evolution in GIS, and it’s used by MSF for almost all emergencies,” Olivo said.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)