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WHO - World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa

06/02/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/03/2020 03:58

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) COVID-19 Meeting of Ministers of Health, 2 June 2020

Submitted by [email protected]on Wed, 03/06/2020 - 10:38

Remarks by the Regional Director

Your Excellency Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States,

Your Excellency, Minister of Health of Nigeria, Chairing,

Your Excellency Minister of Health of Niger,

Honourable Ministers of Health,

Professor Stanley Okolo, Director General of the West African Health Organization,

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC,

Distinguished colleagues,

Good morning!

I am pleased to join you for this important coordination meeting and I thank very much, His Excellency Jean-Claude Kassi Brou for the invitation.

I would like to start by commending your leadership, Honourable Ministers of Health, for the strong public health measures in your countries. Through you, I would like to appreciate the all-of-government leadership of Heads of State in West Africa. Social and public health measures have been put in place quickly and in very difficult contexts of limited information, while at the same time scaling-up response capacities. This is all-the-more complex in countries like Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Mali, which are dealing with challenges of insecurity and displaced populations.

Thank you for the strong participation in the World Health Assembly and for support for the resolution adopted on COVID-19.

At WHO, we are working in close collaboration with UN partners, the Africa CDC and others, to support national response efforts in integrated and coordinated ways.

Thank you for good collaboration with WHO representatives and teams. We have deployed 220 experts and repurposed 900 staff to work on the COVID-19 response. We have also procured PPEs, other equipment and test kits.

We are concerned by the increasing trend in cases in West Africa, with community transition in more than three-quarters of the countries. Implementation of strong social and public health measures has slowed the doubling time of the epidemic, from an average of 4 days on 1 April, to almost 10 days as or 24 May.

Based on WHO modelling, without strong response measures, we expect that the numbers would continue to increase, not only in urban areas, but in districts and the periphery. To avoid a potential exponential increase in cases, countries need to expand and decentralize public health capacities, including testing, to every community.

As countries ease social measures and so-called lockdowns, to avoid a significant increase in cases, public health measures should be scaled up and intensified.

The biggest challenge in the response, continues to be access to essential supplies, especially the availability of test kits. The UN with partners like Gavi and the Global Fund, has established a global supply platform and replenishments are under way. We are working together with the African Union and Africa CDC to ensure sufficient supplies for Africa. I would like to thank all ECOWAS countries for setting-up humanitarian corridors, so that supplies and expertise can move more easily to communities in need.

Specifically, on rapid diagnostic tests, we are working with Africa CDC to finalize guidance on how and when to use these tools for the diagnosis and surveillance of COVID-19. At the global level, we are working with Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, or FIND, to evaluate RDTs and this is complemented by work led by regional centres of excellence.

We do not yet have adequate evidence of effective treatments for COVID-19 and so WHO has launched a global solidarity trial, which has already enrolled 3500 patients, and we hope that Mali will soon start enrolling patients.

We are also initiating work with Africa CDC and other partners to put together a master clinical protocol for traditional medicines, starting with COVID organics and including those in many West African countries, to streamline national regulatory and ethics review processes, and accelerate research and development efforts.

As we manage COVID-19 in health facilities, we are concerned that infections among health workers are continuing to increase and ask that we work together to protect them.

We are also concerned, like you, by the drop in access in some countries to essential services, like immunization and care for HIV, malaria and other conditions. Continuity of these services is vitally important, even as countries respond to this pandemic.

Finally, to mitigate the social and economic consequences of this pandemic, it is important that communities are engaged and enabled to protect themselves and to participate fully in stopping the spread of the disease and of misinformation, fear and stigma. We know the pandemic is significantly impacting livelihoods, particularly of people working in the informal sector, and UN partners are keen to support on these issues.

In closing, I thank you once again for your frontline leadership in this response and assure you of WHO's continued full support on the road ahead in fighting this pandemic.

Thank you.