There is no doubt that the risk of Covid-19 is high in Africa but… World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation announced on January 7 it has discovered a new virus called Covid-19. Well over half a million of the world population have been infected with hundreds dying on a daily basis causing the WHO to declare the invasion of the virus a pandemic on March 11.
The virus began to claim lives last year December when cases of an unusual pneumonia were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Most of those affected were working at the Huanan Seafood Market. The disease began to spread to other countries by January 13. And the death toll in China jumped from tens to hundreds to thousands throwing the entire world into pandemonium.
In Nigeria, government has been up and doing. On Sunday March 29, President Mohammadu Buhari announced a-two week lockdown of some states including the Federal capital territory from Monday March 30 to curtail the spread of the virus.
But then there are a lot insinuations about the virus and its effect. In this interview monitored on Al Jaheera by Church Times, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Mike Ryan throws more light on the virus and how the WHO has been working behind the scene to curtail it. Below are excerpts
When do you think this pandemic might be over?
Predictions are unhelpful at the moment. We have to deal with what we see now. We have to plan as the scenario unfolds. Many countries have to work hard to contain the virus.
But how long with it take for a vaccine to be produced and possible treatment for the virus?
It will take at least one year to produce a vaccine to fight the virus. There are trials going on. But then the process of arriving at a vaccine is fairly long. If we eventually get the vaccine we will have to also think of the logistics of production and distribution. We will get vaccines but it will take time.
What is the position of WHO on the possible use of Cloroquine in the treatment of the virus?
I think the two key words promise and potentials are vital here. But we need to be careful. Some observation studies gives hints on what might happen with the use of cloroquine. But then it is important to rely on results that will come from trials. Doctors and nurses are trying and working frantically to contain the virus. We need to ensure the result we get are good for the public.
The US president Donald Trump has said the US may be back to work end of April. How will you respond to this?
The response of US is a huge response. We have said lockdowns alone will not work. We have to exit from lockdown to solid public health intervention. By restricting movement it will dampen the flames of this pandemic but it will not stamp out the virus. The US wants to break the situation in bits. Nobody wants to stay in a lockdown but we have to seek a way out. There is no way right now. We have to build a healthy process. The Africa region and some other countries represent less than 10 percent of the death. So many countries now have the opportunity to avoid having to go into draconian measures. We need to leverage and mobilise communities in developing countries so that they don’t face what countries in Europe are facing.
Africa countries seems to be in good stead to deal with the virus. How concerned are you about what may play out in Africa?
Many African countries have major issues with conflicts and all kinds of diseases already before now. There is no question that the risk are great in those countries. But the virus is at early stage in these countries. Before now, Africa had faced all kinds of epidemics like ebola, cholera, polio and they have dealt with those epidemics. For the covid-19 we need to empower our communities to take actions in community care. A major humanitarian appeal is currently being launched to help the Africa communities.
What has been the response to IDPs and refugees? There is fear that the virus could take a great toll on them?
There is no question that those who live in overcrowded places are at high risk. We have seen how this virus have spread in closed places. Many people living in camp conditions are stressed. Many vulnerable children live there. These are highly vulnerable population. We are helping to support NGOs and support these communities that are highly vulnerable. By improving hygiene we will not only fight the virus but give them the dignity and health they deserve.
How does the WHO respond to war torn areas like Syria and Yemen?
We have just spent a year and half in Congo trying to eliminate Ebola. We lost friends and colleagues in the fight against Ebola. It is difficult to fight pandemic war situations. We can only hope for the best.
But is there no lessons from the Ebola virus to combat Covid-19
Many lessons have been leant in responses to virus in the past particularly in the case of Ebola. The lesson majorly is that it may be contained by outside support. Communities help greatly in combating it. At the height of Ebola we were tracing about 25,000 contacts every day. It is possible to carry large scale public intervention, surveillance, contact tracing and quarantine. Lockdown will dampen the flame but will not get rid of the virus. You can’t deal with the problem in the same way in all countries.
Why is Italy badly hit by the virus?
Everyone has been taken aback by the death toll in Italy, Spain, France. We have seen courageous health officers in those countries. I have been in that situation. It is tiring and stressful. A lot of people assumed it will be easier to deal with but the virus took those countries unawares. Many have had to play a good degree of catch up. The Italian government is fighting hard. But the situation is tough. Our prayers are with our colleagues in the badly hit countries including Italy.
What has been done to protect health workers?
All governments around the world are scrambling to train health workers. There is approach to expand the space and provide critical care. Our major concern has been providing protective equipment. It is a difficult task. We have been working hard to provide care for health workers. But countries can fill gaps and provide emergency support. It has to be solved by countries. There is a lot to do to ensure the health workers get the support they need.
What do you have to say about the conspiracy theory between US and China as being the cause of the pandemic? Is the virus man made?
We have been tracking the genetics of the virus since the beginning. There is no evidence other than it is a virus that emerge from nature. The reality is we have behaved in a way that we have abused our environment. We have globalized the planet and it has come with benefits in terms of freedom of movement and the economy. But we have stressed our environment. We have allowed diseases to cross from animal to human. The problem is man-made. We have left ourselves vulnerable. The diseases are natural but we have caused the creation of the disease. We have caused tremendous damage to our health and death to those we love.
We are still coming to terms with this event. I have got a job. You have got to protect others and contribute to the community. And when this is done we will have to sit down and determine what society we want in the future. Are we to defend ourselves from virus or foreign armies? That is a conversation for later. But now we have to fight.