By Patience Rusare recently in Mutare
AS the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, coronavirus cases are beginning to spike again in some African countries, and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is warning that governments should step up preparations.
Over the past four weeks, cases have increased by 45 percent per week on average in Kenya, 19 percent in the DRC, 12 percent in Zimbabwe and eight percent in Egypt.
As of November 20 2020, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa amounted to 2 092 968, which represented around four percent of the infections around the world.
There have been 47 645 deaths among the two million people reported to be infected with the virus, according to Africa CDC Outbreak Brief 44.
Anecdotal evidence from across the continent points to a general slackening in adherence to health protocols in recent months, even as warnings of another devastating wave of infections get louder.
Dr John Nkengasong, the Africa CDC director, said: “The time for the continent to prepare for the second wave is now.”
He urged governments not to get into prevention fatigue mode.
The continent of 1,3 billion people has so far managed better than widely expected in terms of containing the epidemic, with a lower percentage of deaths than other regions, partly due to strict lockdown measures imposed in March.
However, beginning in August, many governments eased restrictions to help economies in the region to start recovering.
In Zimbabwe, the government allowed business to reopen in August and cut the nightly curfew by two hours.
Schools reopened in phases from September 28 to November 9.
While most of industry has reopened in phases, public bars, night clubs, beerhalls, casinos, betting shops and theatres are still not permitted to operate.
Weddings are still limited to 50 people, with church services at 100 people.
Sadly, in recent weeks, there have been reports that complacency has been creeping into society, with a lot of people disregarding mitigatory measures.
Chief co-ordinator of Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 task force Dr Agnes Mahomva conceded that public complacency was creeping in when it came to the basics.
“We have seen a lot of negligence and this is reflecting in the numbers we are receiving. I keep saying that for as long as we continue to record new cases, we are not yet safe. So we urge everyone to play their part,” she said.
In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta held a summit to review the surge in infections, and urged Kenyans to wear face masks properly and practice physical distancing to avoid ‘llosing hard-won ground’ in the fight against the disease.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warned last week that his country’s economy was ‘too fragile’ to bear another lockdown.
“Looking at the trends in the other countries, we must do all we can to avert a second wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria,” he said in a tweet.
“We must make sure that our cases, which have gone down, do not rise again.”
Community Health Workers: the first line of defence
In recent days, Zimbabwe has seen a jump in the daily rate of infections and deaths.
In the last four weeks, 1 000 new infections have been recorded.
Though recovery rates are still stable and strong, the fear of moving back to Level Five of the nation-wide lockdown is in the air.
Nonetheless, Zimbabwe has co-ordinated several initiatives and has taken measures that may strengthen the country’s resilience if it has to manage a significant second wave of infections.
And one of these initiatives is the training of 1000 community health workers across the country.
Speaking on the sidelines of a two-day Volunteer Community Health Workers pre-deployment orientation and training workshop in Mutare this week, Director of Media Services in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Dr Anyway Mutambudzi said volunteer community health workers will create a linkage in the communities with the local health rapid response teams (RRTs) for effective COVID-19 surveillance, testing and reporting.
“As the country nudges forward in its efforts to combat COVID-19, Government has roped in volunteer community health workers in order to disseminate health education down to village levels, said Dr Mutambudzi.
The community health workers have been equipped with thermometers, sanitisers, medical gloves, smart phones and airtime to enable them to carry out their screening, and reporting tasks.
Further, the health workers were provided with information on COVID-19 so that they can transmit accurate information on the pandemic to their respective communities.
Commenting on the second wave of COVID-19, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control (EDC) Dr Portia Manangazira expressed optimism in the country’s ability to handle the rebounding viral disease.
“As a country, we are bracing up for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and we would like that to be as manageable as possible,” concluded Dr Manangazira.
Since the 1970s, African countries have used community health workers to address gaps in the health workforce. These are local volunteers trained to provide basic health services.
They have effectively supported efforts to manage pandemics, including malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, HIV and Ebola.
Their role is important because they can be trained to recognise symptoms, diagnose certain diseases and even dispense medication.
In addition, because they are long-time residents in their communities, they are known and trusted sources of information.