Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Coronavirus tests Botswana’s health system

Botswana is this week hoping for the best and bracing for the worst as the country’s suspected cases of the runaway novel corona virus rose to three after two more cases were recorded Friday.

This comes after the World Health organisation (WHO) declared the ongoing coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency. “The main reason is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference last week. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems, which are ill prepared to deal with it.”

Botswana is among many African countries which does not have the capacity to deal with the disease. The Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Lemogang Kwape revealed in a television interview Friday night that Botswana does not have laboratories to test suspects for the disease and will wait until Tuesday to take swabs from the three suspected cases for tests in South Africa.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) however says it has stringent measures in place at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) and other ports of entry.

It however emerged during the Minister’s interview that the second suspect who flew in from China slipped through the Sir Seretse Khama Airport “stringent” screening process and went home. He later reported himself to the Block 8 clinic because he suspected that he may be infected.

The Ministry confirmed that the first case was detected at the SSKIA after screening of all Ethiopian Airways passengers according to protocol.

The results led to the identification and subsequent isolation of the suspected case. The passenger was traveling from China to Gaborone on January 30 2020.

The three patients are currently in isolation at the Block 8 Clinic facility and investigations are ongoing. Dr Kwape revealed that currently there are only two laboratories in Africa that can test for the disease, and because of the backlog, Botswana has been told to wait until Tuesday before submitting swabs from suspected patients to the South African laboratory for tests.

The Ministry has setup self-administered screening tool and objective screening which uses infrared thermometers and other measures to help in early detection and management of the virus at SSKIA, the Philip Matante International Airport, Maun and Kasane Airports, Kazungula and Ramokgwebana border posts.

As a precautionary measure the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, has issued a travel warning to Batswana.

The ministry said in general, there are about 500 Batswana living across China. Out of these, 33 are students based in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The ministry has assured the public of the safety of the Batswana nationals including students, “The Botswana Mission in the People’s Republic of China has reached out to all Batswana students residing in Wuhan City and they are reported to be safe”.

The Embassy of Botswana in China is also working closely with the relevant Chinese authorities to ensure the provision of food, water, face masks and other essential supplies to the concerned students.

Meanwhile the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation has confirmed that they do not have any plan to evacuate Batswana students locked down in Wuhan City or Batswana across China at the moment.

The Ministry said the Botswana Embassy in China is in constant contact with students in Wuhan through an established Web Chat platform and an emergency hotline number. To date, there are no reports of any Batswana in China having contracted by the virus.

As the infection numbers swell, WHO International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee, convened on January 30 2020 after monitoring the outbreak and the Director-General of WHO took a decision to declare the virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

There are now 7711 confirmed and 12167 suspected cases throughout the country of China. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

According to the WHO Secretariat there are now 82 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only 7 had no history of travel to China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths.

What is this virus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV 2019) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

WHO recommends precautionary measures such as to frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water; when coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands; Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough; If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.

When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals; The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

The incubation period for the virus can be up to 14 days after infection. As a result, WHO recommends travelers who had contact with confirmed cases or direct exposure to potential source of infection should be placed under medical observation. High-risk contacts should avoid travel for the duration of the incubation period (up to 14 days).

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