Successful attempt in containing COVID-19 in South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria

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Prof. Salim Abdool Karim.  Picture: Rogan Ward
Prof. Salim Abdool Karim. Picture: Rogan Ward

By Nosipho Mathaba, Journalism and Media Studies student 

On Friday, 23rd of April 2021, Rhodes University African studies Centre hosted a virtual panel for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) discussion. The webinar titled COVID-19 in Retrospect: Responses to the Pandemic, Vaccine Discovery and the Politics of PharmaCare in Africa and was chaired by Dr Adedamola Adetiba, a Visiting Fellow of the Rhodes University’s African Studies Centre. The presenters included; Prof. Salim Abdool Karim – Former Chairperson, Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 in South Africa, and Prof. Emmanuel Akin Abayomi, the Honourable Commissioner of Health in Lagos State, Nigeria.

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a number of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, China. These cases were identified as being caused by “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2” and is now known as “Coronavirus Disease 2019”. Since 2019, the virus has spread rapidly. It has spread to more than 100 countries worldwide. Not only has the fight to reduce the spread of the virus been a top priority for countries all over the world, but the quest to develop a vaccine has also been too. Currently, South Africa has over 1 million cumulative cases identified but it is predicted that if it was not for the participators' attempt to control the spread of the Coronavirus, South Africa, Nigeria, and other countries would have lost many more lives. This was stated in Prof. Salim Abdool Karim’s and in Prof A.E. Abayomi’s presentation.

In Prof Karim’s presentation, he did not only address “good” measures that were put in place to curb COVID-19 but also highlights the mistakes that happened in the process. Furthermore, he emphasized how the next pandemic should be handled. He emphasised the five lessons that the South African Task-team took out from the pandemic.

The realisation of the seriousness of the Coronavirus being the first. He said a delayed lockdown would have resulted in numerous fatalities. Open communication was the second lesson. Prof Karim stressed that the general openness of the presidential addresses; the sharing of daily statistics; the availability of an updated COVID19 website, which all resulted in the current status of today. He said other viruses such as HIV did not receive this much attention. Prof Abayomi concurred with his South African colleague, pointing out that that they understood the need for their citizens to know the honest truth about the COVID statistics.

Prof Karim acknowledged the limitations that the Coronavirus Task Team encountered.  He admitted that the lockdown “military abuse, irrational regulations, miracle cures and PPE corruption” were key errors and challenges. He however praised South Africa for rising to the occasion, when compared to other international superpower countries. He made an example about the project of ventilators which was developed in order to be manufactured in South Africa.

The next speaker, Prof A.E. Abayomi, talked about the management of the coronavirus in Lagos state, Nigeria. Lagos is a major city in Africa that is densely populated. This means it was vulnerable to a pandemic of this magnitude. However, just like the COVID committee in South Africa, Nigeria took the virus seriously from the very beginning. After the Ebola outburst, Nigeria developed a biosecurity roadmap which comprised of building laboratories that could handle a dangerous virus and prepared them for a pandemic such as Corona.

Prof Abayomi said their anticipation plan was well-thought-out and divided into three scenarios. Scenario 1 is a situation where there were no active cases in Lagos, scenario 2 stating that there would be a small outbreak with rapid containment, and scenario 3 predicting a large extensive outbreak. This anticipation was imperative when the first and second waves hit because there was preparation.

Unlike South Africa, Nigeria’s second wave led to fewer deaths, even though the numbers were spiking. This was because of the measures put in place. The introduction of private labs and rapid testing kits was developed during the first wave. Prof. Abayomi praised the effectiveness of their isolation strategy. The strategy involved full containment, a scale-up in isolation centers in private and public places, and the introduction of isolation of home care and telemedicine. The second wave was less fatal because Nigeria followed the science and continued to build capacity.

He said an interesting COVID-19 control measure that Nigeria implemented was the oxygen strategy. Prof. Abayomi said the deployment of oxygen therapy centers was developed and then oxygen plants were planted in various places to meet the demand for oxygen for covid patients. He said the COVID-19 strategy in Nigeria was successful.

Participants were given an opportunity to ask questions and to comment on the presentations. Questions ranged from the distribution of vaccines in Africa to miracle “cures”. Prof Abayomi thanked the speakers for their time. He said further questions could be forwarded to the speakers.

You can read Day 1's reportback here.

The full colloquium is available on the Rhodes University YouTube channel.