World

failing health systems fear the worst

Health systems already under pressure could be quickly overwhelmed in the vast majority of African countries. Some fear “a bomb ready to explode” that watches over the continent.

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, has already raised the alarm. Faced with the threat of the Coronavirus which he qualified “of humanity's enemy”, African countries could be hit by an unprecedented health disaster.

Africa must wake up. She must prepare for the worst todayTedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHOVirtual press conference on March 18, 2020

If the head of the WHO points to Africa, where the disease is not yet as widespread as elsewhere in the world, it is because this continent is particularly fragile. Health systems, already under pressure, could very quickly be overwhelmed in the event of the need for massive care of patients suffering from coronavirus.

Why should you prepare for the worst? Because most countries lack medicines and protective equipment. Because they have a glaring deficit of devices such as oxygen concentrators or mechanical breathing devices, necessary to treat severe cases. In most African hospitals, the reception capacity is very limited in the intensive care services, said Dr Michel Yao, head of WHO's emergency operations in Africa.

The case of the Zimbabwean hospital system illustrates well the words of the Director General of the WHO. In hospitals in this country, which cleared the state of natural disaster on March 16, hospital staff admit their helplessness in the face of an announced disaster. “We are not ready. We lack everything, personnel, medicine and equipment “, worries a doctor at the microphone of RFI. His establishment has only 300 masks and barely has three beds in intensive care, which are already occupied.

Authorities say “wash your hands”, but there is no water. If you get very sick, you're going to die, because we can't afford to treat youZimbabwean doctorat RFI

Doctors in Zimbabwe are not alone in expressing their distress. Except for a few rare countries like South Africa and the Maghreb countries like Morocco, the majority of African countries south of the Sahara are housed in the same boat. Their health systems are totally disarmed in the face of the looming major health crisis.

The most pessimistic compare the current health crisis to “a bomb ready to explode” on a continent already weakened, not only by ineffective health systems, but also by the insecurity which persists in certain countries.

The combination of “epidemic and conflict” could therefore wreak havoc, especially in the Sahel region where terrorist attacks are pushing health workers to abandon their posts in rural areas. This results in the closure of many health centers. As the site recalls Financing Health in Africa, in Burkina Faso, terrorists do not hesitate to target ambulances. Attacks which prevent evacuations of the sick in certain localities of the country. How then to organize the response to the coronavirus in a Sahelian region that has been handed over to the jihadists?

Experts are unanimous: the salvation for Africa today lies in the strengthening of preventive measures. The spread of the coronavirus in communities must be avoided by all possible means, by intensifying the information campaign on the essential observance of the instructions given to the general public. Among the recommendations made to African governments, the World Health Organization insists on the rapid detection of cases of coronavirus and the equally rapid isolation of those affected.

In a continent where many families living in urban areas live in close proximity, WHO calls on African states to rethink “the rules of social distancing” to minimize human contact and the risk of spreading the disease. As for people who do not have running water to wash their hands, the offer and use of hydro-alcoholic gels should be strongly encouraged, as well as the use of masks, where necessary. “We are aware of the challenges that arise, but we absolutely must innovate to face them”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, during a press conference on March 19.

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