W.H.O. praises South Africa’s community-based approach to COVID-19 fight

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference, Fabrice COFFRINI / Getty Images
FILE PHOTO: World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Photo credit FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organisation on Monday praised South Africa for the manner in which the government has managed its response to the coronavirus pandemic despite the social and economic challenges the economy is facing.

South Africa implemented one of the fastest and strictest responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It closed its borders and imposed a lockdown before it announced its first death from COVID-19.

The W.H.O. was responding to a question from a reporter during a press briefing regarding its opinion on how South Africa has handled the pandemic.

W.H.O. Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised South Africa’s community-based approach in which he said authorities receive correspondences from citizens which allows them to form a risk-adjusted strategy on COVID-19.

“Truly, this kind of consultation with the community that South Africa is doing is very, very important. So, please, continue doing that, listening to your people, getting inputs from them, understanding their concerns and all political leaders joining hands, working together to defeat this virus,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said.

Dr. Ghebreyesus also urged all leaders to come together, no matter how difficult it was, in the best interests of the citizens to defeat the pandemic.

“To defeat COVID-19, the solution is making it everybody’s business. That’s why as W.H.O. we have always been saying please break the barrier across party lines, come together whether you are in the left, right r in the middle. This is about saving the lives of your people. So just unite as one, no party lines should really divide you and listen to your communities.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the W.H.O.’s Health Emergencies Programme, who spoke at length, said that South Africa had used its initial lockdown very well in addition to putting in place a four-point plan for preparedness and response.

Dr. Ryan said that the deployment of 39 mobile laboratories all over South Africa was a huge innovation. He added that the training of up to 30,000 community health workers for doing contact tracing, testing and catering to the country’s vulnerable population was effective.

“South Africa is also tracking closely the HIV positive population and actively looking to see if there is any actual differential impact on that population which, I think, is very prudent and shows a very caring approach for a vulnerable population.”

Moreover Dr. Ryan lauded South Africa for its swift technological response which allowed it to develop COVID-19 testing capacity early on and assist other countries in the continent, such as Kenya, to test for cases. As of April 27, South Africa has tested 178,470 people.

“South Africa was the first country in Africa to develop its own capacity to do laboratory testing and has also given that gift to the rest of Africa through the training it has run with the Senegalese Institut Pasteur lab and others. So, South Africa is a net contributor to capacity building in Africa,” Dr. Ryan said.

In closing, Dr. Ryan gave the strongest statement that the W.H.O. was impressed by South Africa’s swift response but warned that that did not mean the country was free of the virus.

“I hope I can say this without fear of contradiction, I think, South Africa has really shown the way in Africa and it is showing the way globally for how a country that, facing economic and its own other difficulties, has clearly demonstrated a strong public health-led response to this pandemic but, still, nobody is out of the woods yet.”

South Africa currently has reported 4,793 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 90 fatalities from the disease.