As the world grapples to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic, Africa continues to battle an Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On February 14, 2020, Egypt reported the first COVID-19 case on the African continent. This incident has caused panic on the continent given the limited capacity of our public healthcare systems to effectively respond should the outbreak establish itself in Africa.
Since the declaration of the COVID -19 outbreak as a PHEIC, Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training programs (FE(L)TPs) in Africa have actively participated in preparedness and response activities within their respective Ministries of Health. They have been involved in conducting preparedness assessments, point of entry screening and surveillance of suspected cases, developing protocols and guidelines for surveillance, infection prevention and control, risk communication and community engagement activities. In Zimbabwe and DRC, FETP residents have been part of teams investigating suspected COVID-19 cases.
ACoDD and other volunteer responders such as Africa CDC´s African Volunteer Health Corps (AVoHC) will continue to be instrumental in preparedness and response to ongoing, imminent and emerging public health threats. A significant proportion has been trained and/or previously participated in outbreaks can thus be quickly deployed as needed. However, for maximum impact, such deployments and other response efforts need to be coordinated through mandated regional bodies. In DRC and Uganda, ACoDD deployments were done in liaison with the country´s Ministry of Health. Initial ACoDD deployments for COVID-19 preparedness and response at regional level are being coordinated through the Africa CDC and WHO African Regional Office.
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic threat amid an ongoing EVD outbreak in DRC and other ongoing public health challenges has the potential to erode some of the progress made in strengthening African health systems. However, coordination and efficient use of resources at national and regional levels will be key to successful containment of such threats, alongside systematic implementation of efforts to strengthen health systems.