With the number of coronavirus positive cases rising more steeply; public hospitals are running out of space. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Skills fighting polio will help Africa fight Covid-19

CAPE TOWN – Expertise in polio eradication that has put Africa on the verge of being certified free of wild poliovirus. This has freed up a network of responders from the World Health Organization (WHO) Polio Eradication Programme and partner organisations in providing critical resources and skills to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

While testing is the core of any strategy to contain the virus, the region has had a relatively low number of tests performed. Since the outbreak started, nearly two million tests have been carried out in the WHO African Region, with an average test rate of 15.3 per 10 000 population.

To boost diagnosis, the WHO-coordinated polio laboratory network comprising 16 laboratories in 15 countries is now dedicating 50% of its capacity to COVID-19 testing. Hundreds of tests are carried out every day using polio testing machines in Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.

“In Africa, no one has the footprint of the polio programme nor the expertise for mounting effective response campaigns. So with COVID-19 threatening to overwhelm health systems, the extensive polio response network is once again lending crucial support as countries build up systems to contain COVID-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.