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Africa steps up Covid-19 surveillance and coordination

Image: US Air Force

US-funded project will support diagnosis, subtyping and risk communication

The Skoll Foundation, a charity based in California in the United States, has given US$7 million to a project to boost Africa’s response to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. 

The project will be undertaken by the African Centres for Disease Control in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in partnership with the East African Integrated Disease Surveillance Network and the SACIDS Foundation for One Health. The latter connects infectious disease researchers in a handful of African countries with leading institutions in high-income countries. 

The partnership was announced on 10 March. The African CDC says it’s a response to a call made last month by African health ministers for a continent-wide strategy to prepare and respond to the novel coronavirus, which causes the potentially deadly respiratory illness Covid-19. 

The partnership will implement technical aspects of Africa’s response, like diagnosis and viral subtyping, enhanced surveillance, and risk communication. It will build on existing systems to monitor influenza-like symptoms and other respiratory infections on the continent. 

As of 10 March, 105 African cases of Covid-19 had been reported. The majority were in north Africa: Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria together had 83 cases. In sub-Saharan Africa the disease had been diagnosed in six countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Togo. The following day, the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported its first case. 

Several countries, including Uganda and Zimbabwe, have urged travellers from countries with widespread Covid-19 outbreaks to avoid travelling to them. Health experts have warned that Covid-19 symptoms and clinical outcomes could be exacerbated by Africa’s heavy burden of diseases that weaken the immune system or hits the respiratory system, like HIV and tuberculosis.