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Coronavirus – South Africa: WHO scales up support to reinforce Eastern Cape Province COVID-19 response

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The Nelson Mandela Metro and the Sarah Baartman Districts, two of the six health districts in the Eastern Cape Province have been reporting upward increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases during first three weeks of November. These were attributed to among others poor adherence to social distancing, inappropriate mask-wearing and other challenging hygiene practices.  Most were also traced to local universities, schools and attendance of large gatherings.

In Port Elizabeth, the WHO Representative in South Africa, Dr Kaluwa joined the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize and the Eastern Cape MEC of Health Ms Sindiswa Gomba in their oversight visit of the affected districts and:

  1. Received status update from the local senior health officials and the Mayor of Sarah Baartman Municipality, Cr Khunjuzwa Eunice Kekana.  At the time there were 4,991 active cases in Nelson Mandela Metro, with 437 new cases and 15 deaths reported a day before the oversight visit.  The incidence risk for Nelson Mandela Bay was 374/100000 of the population and the mortality rate stood at 4.1% on the day of the provided update with 166 health workers in isolation.  The update was also attended by senior health officials and doctors from the two districts as well as delegations of municipal representatives and religious and traditional leaders.
  1. Inspected the newly renovated 100-bed Covid-19 ward at Dora Nginza Hospital to can, amongst others:
  1. Cope with the anticipated increase in the number of patients from the affected Districts,
  2. Implement strict infection prevention and control (IPC) measures to minimize healthcare-associated transmission of COVID-19 among the healthcare workers. 

In East London, Dr Kaluwa, in committing to help limit and interrupt further on going COVID-19 transmission in Nelson Mandela Metro and Sarah Baartman Districts, he repurposed additional staff to the Province to support monitoring and effectiveness of the Provincial and Districts responses, bolster risk communication and community engagement, strengthen infection and prevention measures, promotion of uptake of community targeted testing and heightening of contact tracing. 

He introduced the repurposed staff to the Eastern Cape Province’s Member of the Executive on Health (MEC), Ms Sindiswa Gomba, and her senior management team leading the Province’s COVID-19 response.  Ms Gomba extended her gratitude to Dr Kaluwa and WHO for availing needed technical and material support dedicated to strengthen the response in the affected districts.  According to her, the support will also contribute to strengthening the ongoing provincial response activities; and assist affected districts with development of local level interventions including building capacities to identify strengths and gaps that would inform and guide response priorities to control the ongoing rise of case”.

Dr Kaluwa shared his appreciation of the Province’s acceptance of WHO support. He also acknowledged the Province’s effort in stepping up its response effort including measures to protect and save the lives of high-risk groups.

Acting Head of Eastern Cape Department of Health, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said her team was ready for the WHO surge team. “We have been working with WHO experts in the province and additional dedicated ones to the affected Districts are welcomed.  On the ground we know they will strengthen the response including transfer of skills to the local health staff, intensifying contact tracing, daily community mobilization, ensuring the readiness of health facilities, and dealing with cluster outbreaks.”

Before introducing additional staff to the Province’s leadership, Dr Kaluwa, held a meeting with them and shared the importance of their deployment to the province.  He advised them to work closely with their respective counterparts and ensure that they transfer skills and at the same time also be ready to learn. The staff would be deployed immediately to the two affected districts and while others would remain at provincial level focusing on coordination of the response and monitoring other districts situations ensuring rapid interventions are implemented as triggered by the evolution of the respective situation.

The situation in the Eastern Cape has also received attention of the National Government to work closely with the provincial government, municipalities and other institutions in the Province to ensure that the outbreak is contained and managed.

The Eastern Cape Province visit by Dr Kaluwa followed on four others he has already undertaken to KwaZulu Natal, North West, Free State and Gauteng Provinces where the WHO COVID-19 Response technical experts are deployed. In these provinces, he continued to meet with senior officials and WHO deployees.  Emerging from these meetings are that WHO’s continued support and the deployed technical experts are valuable. The provinces have seen improvements in the implementation of the Incident Management System (coordination of the COVID-19 response), practice of Infection Prevention and Control in health facilities, conducting surveillance and contact tracing, addressing communities risk of exposure and reducing impact of COVID-19, operation of isolation and quarantine site and execution of referral mechanisms.

With WHO support, all provinces have completed their COVID-19 Intra-action Reviews which informed their respective COVID-19 Resurgence Plan.

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