African infrastructure used against Ebola outbreak can mitigate the impact of COVID-19

The response to the 2014 Ebola crisis taught African countries what it takes to invest in more resilient health systems and more effective surveillance mechanisms to cope with epidemics. This expertise can help struggle with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Some measures to prevent the spread of this pandemic – like the use of thermal cameras, cutting flights, close schools, and borders, and limit public gatherings – are the same strategies used in the Ebola outbreak.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the West Africa Ebola crisis, the World Bank approved more than $600 million to launch the Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) Project. The programme aims to strengthen health systems and support effective disease surveillance in 16 West and Central African countries.

That investment was focused on the Ebola outbreak and its consequences, but its legacy is now being used to fight the new pandemic. One example comes from Senegal.

Institut Pasteur

Used to deal with outbreaks similar to COVID-19, the Institut Pasteur in Dakar started preparing in January. Its laboratory was one of the first on the continent to be accredited by the World Health Organization for testing of coronavirus.

After this, the Senegalese team trained 25 laboratories and another institute in South Africa trained about 18 more. Just right now, more than 30 laboratories in the region have the capacity to test for coronavirus.

Under the program, the Institut Pasteur procured more laboratory equipment for testing including biosecurity equipment to increase the capacity to run more tests and guarantee the safety and quality protocols for running these tests.

NCDC's John Oladejo
NCDC’s John Oladejo

“The equipment provided will allow us to rapidly detect and improve our capacity to mobilize resources and respond to disease outbreaks like coronavirus,” says Alpha Sall, Director General at the Institut Pasteur

The World Bank also supports the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) since 2017. “When the COVID-19 virus was announced, we started a technical working group for preparedness. We had all partners involved and started preparing, looking at infrastructure, schedules of drugs, points of entries were suspected cases would most likely be coming from”, affirms John Oladejo, Director for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response at the NCDC.

According to him, coordination among all partners in countries and across boundaries is essential to prevent the spread of an outbreak, whether Ebola or COVID-19.

+ Last week, the World Bank approved a $14 billion package of fast-track financing was approved to assist companies and countries in their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19.