The World Health Organization (WHO) pledged Saturday to support African countries on joint coronavirus disease preparedness and response strategies as the threat looms over the continent.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, made the announcement at an emergency meeting with African health ministers at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Moeti said the WHO finds there are critical gaps in readiness for countries across the continent.
The WHO conducted a survey with countries to assess overall readiness for the disease, now called COVID-19, and found regional readiness level was an estimated 66%.
“We need urgently to prioritize strengthening the capacities for countries to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, prevention and control in health facilities and in communities,” said Moeti.
African health ministers discussed ways to prepare for and potentially respond to the virus.
Moeti underlined threats posed by the virus has cast a spotlight on the shortcomings in health systems in the African region.
“Countries must invest in emergency preparedness. This investment is worthwhile when you consider the cost of responding to outbreaks, which for the 2014 Ebola outbreak was estimated at close to $3 billion,” she said.
As of Feb. 20, countries reported that since Jan. 22 a total of 210 people had been investigated for COVID-10 in the WHO African region, according to a statement.
Up to 204 cases were ruled out and six cases are still pending.
WHO has assisted countries in building diagnostic capacity for COVID-19, and currently 26 laboratories are able to test for the new pathogen, up from just two earlier this month.
China, where the disease first broke out in December, in Hubei province, has reported more than 2,000 deaths. But Saturday it reported a sharp fall in the number of fatalities and cases.
The WHO warned, however, it was too early to make predictions about the outbreak and expressed concern about the number of new infections in other countries with no clear link to China, such as travel history or contact with a confirmed case.