World Health Organization representative to Zimbabwe, Dr. Alex Gasasira, says health officials in the country are on high alert over the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has so far killed 106 people in China.
In an interview, Dr. Gasasira said as long as a country receives travelers, there’s always a risk as some people from the infected areas may travel with or without showing any coronavirus symptoms.
He said Zimbabwe, like other nations, has implemented some important measures to ensure that people from different nations are screened and monitored accordingly once they are in the country.
“So, Zimbabwe like any other country that has a normal travelling public between the country and infected areas. So, WHO has recommended to all countries to implement certain measures to enhance their preparedness. It’s important that any country including Zimbabwe should be able to detect this coronavirus should this be imported into the country. There are standard ways in which once the virus is confirmed in the country the patient must be cared for in a manner that will reduce their chances of infecting others, the health workers should be protected.
“So, surveillance should be intensified so that if any other cases occur these can be detected within the shortest time possible, proper messaging to the population, to the communities, what to do, how to identify symptoms, how to minimize transmission between people, all of this guidance has been shared in countries including Zimbabwe and we are happy that Zimbabwe is already implementing all of these actions, including ensuring that all the travelers who are coming through Zimbabwe enough information is collected from them, where they are coming from.”
Dr. Gasasira said for those people coming from infected areas, their details are noted down.
“So far, none of them has been found to be demonstrating symptoms. The authorities, the health authorities in Zimbabwe know where these travelers are going and they check on them on a daily basis to ensure that they don’t develop symptoms and then give them the right information if they develop the symptoms on what to do.”
He further said the World Health Organization has not yet declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern as independent experts reviewed data and available evidence and then recommended to the WHO director general that the outbreak has not yet reached alarming proportions.
“What happens, how WHO declares a public health emergency of international concern is by convening independent experts, people who are experts in the subject matter to review the evidence, to review the data that may be available and based on that independent review of that evidence they then advise the director general as to whether an event should be declared a public health emergency of international concern or not. The director general then takes these recommendations into consideration and makes a final decision.”
He said a group of independent experts convened a meeting early this month and sometime last week to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.
“They looked at the evidence at that time, their first meeting they did not meet any conclusion. They continued to meet again for the second time and at that time they recommended to the director general that the criteria to declare a public health emergency of international concern had not yet been met. They recognized that the situation in China is very serious. They recognized that the situation in the region in China was serious but at that time the risk for other countries globally did not constitute what would then be a public health emergency of international concern.
“So, that’s what the experts recommended to the director general. The director general accepted the recommendations that the experts gave him and based on that advice did not declare it a public health emergency of international concern. However, the experts together with the director general agreed that as more evidence becomes available he will quickly reconvene these experts.”
He said the WHO director general is monitoring the situation in China and other countries and would make further consultations in order to take appropriate action.
The WHO says there are 4,428 cases of the disease in China, including 45 in 13 countries.