Africa, lack­ing sup­plies, braces for coro­n­avirus

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Dake Kang, Noel Sichalwe and Cara Anna

LUSAKA, ZAM­BIA >> At a Chi­nese-run hos­pi­tal in Zam­bia, some em­ploy­ees watched as peo­ple who re­cently re­turned from China showed up with coughs but were not placed in iso­la­tion. A doc­tor tend­ing to those pa­tients has stopped com­ing to work, and health work­ers have been or­dered not to speak pub­licly about the new virus that has killed hun­dreds around the world.

The virus that has spread through much of China has yet to be con­firmed in Africa, but global health author­i­ties are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about the threat to the con­ti­nent where an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion Chi­nese now live, as some health work­ers on the ground warn they are not ready to han­dle an out­break.

Coun­tries are rac­ing to take pre­cau­tions as hun­dreds of trav­el­ers ar­rive from China every day. Safe­guards in­clude stronger sur­veil­lance at ports of en­try and im­proved quar­an­tine and test­ing mea­sures across Africa, home to 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple and some of the world’s weak­est sys­tems for de­tect­ing and treat­ing disease.

But the ef­fort has been com­pli­cated by a crit­i­cal short­age of test­ing kits and nu­mer­ous ill­nesses that dis­play symp­toms sim­i­lar to the flu-like virus.

“The prob­lem is, even if it’s mild, it can par­a­lyze the whole com­mu­nity,” said Dr. Michel Yao, emer­gency op­er­a­tions man­ager in Africa for the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Those grow­ing wor­ried in­clude em­ploy­ees at the Sino-Zam­bia Friend­ship Hos­pi­tal in the min­ing city of Kitwe in north­ern Zam­bia, near the Congo bor­der. Chi­nese com­pa­nies op­er­ate mines on the out­skirts of the city of more than half a mil­lion peo­ple. One com­pany is head­quar­tered in Wuhan, the city at the cen­ter of the virus out­break. Hun­dreds of work­ers trav­eled be­tween Zam­bia and China in re­cent weeks.

“We’re def­i­nitely not pre­pared. If we had a cou­ple of cases, it would spread very quickly,” phys­io­ther­a­pist Fundi Sinkala said. “We’re do­ing the best we can with what re­sources we have.”

The Sino-Zam­bia Friend­ship Hos­pi­tal, or Si­nozam, a low-slung fa­cil­ity near the city’s train sta­tion, has taken some pre­cau­tions, in­clud­ing check­ing pa­tient tem­per­a­tures with in­frared ther­mome­ters and es­tab­lish­ing iso­la­tion ar­eas. Em­ploy­ees wear masks. Gloves, dis­in­fec­tant and oxy­gen in­halers have been stock­piled. Si­nozam treats many Chi­nese in Kitwe and its pre­cau­tions go fur­ther than other hos­pi­tals in the area.

But the em­ploy­ees and oth­ers fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter, some of whom spoke anony­mously un­der the new rules, say some Chi­nese pa­tients checked in with coughs and fevers but did not get placed in iso­la­tion.

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