UKZN launches groundbreaking war room to fight coronavirus

Described as a first of its kind in Africa, UKZN has launched a 'war room' to fight coronavirus.
Described as a first of its kind in Africa, UKZN has launched a 'war room' to fight coronavirus.
Image: 123RF/lightwise

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKN) on Tuesday launched a groundbreaking campus health “war room" to lend a hand in international efforts to fight the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The university described the initiative as a first of its kind in Africa.

“The threat of the new coronavirus is compelling motivation why we, as a university, need to constantly be alert and put in place proactive and pro-response mechanisms to combat diseases and illnesses. The rampant Covid-19 pandemic has already spread to six continents and there are no signs that it is being brought under control.

“Starting today, the university’s college of health sciences, headed by its deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Busisiwe Ncama, is instituting large-scale, high-level surveillance, prevention and response measures to make sure that we are ready when Covid-19 is detected in our vicinity," said UKZN vice-chancellor and principal Prof Nana Poku.

He said the plan offered “a co-ordinated cohesive strategy for preparedness, and will require each and every one of us to get involved. We believe in this instance, prevention is better than cure. Given the high concentration of people on our campuses, prevention and protection against the spread of disease is critical."

The war room aims to provide the necessary evidence and guidance to effectively respond to the virus. This may include a policy of quarantine, including self-quarantine, in all possible cases of exposure for the duration of the incubation period, and based on any requirements by the health authorities, such as the department of health, the National Institute for Control of Disease (NICD) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Poku said while no cases of the disease have been detected in SA, the WHO expects most, if not all, countries to detect cases.

“We know cases have already been detected in Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and now Morocco, and that two South Africans have been diagnosed in Japan, and more than 150 South Africans in Wuhan will be brought back into the country,” said Poku.

“Our ground team is assessing the type of resources and training that campus health services and staff require. Apart from ensuring that adequate clinical management protocols and procedures are put in place, the team will also ensure adequate infection control measures, protocols and equipment, including personal protective equipment, gloves and N95 masks, are also made available if and when required.

“Other processes and procedures, including diagnostic facilities, equipment and support, such as effective transportation and institutional readiness, are also part of the plan,” said Poku.

The UKZN high-level approach includes:

  • The rollout of a high-impact health-awareness campaign. This is to empower staff and students with information on the virus, with travel advice to reduce the risk of infection to themselves, thereby reducing the risk of transmission to others. Should anyone become infected, they will be equipped with important factual knowledge about the virus.
  • An effective infection-control and health-promotion intervention. This involves high-impact efforts to promote, implement and monitor hygiene behaviours and practices likely to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by all staff, students, contractors and visitors at all UKZN campuses. The multifaceted approach will include hand-hygiene practices, the use of hand sanitisers in every building and entrance, cleaning high-risk surfaces correctly and adoption of correct cough/sneeze etiquette.
  • A fully trained team will also be on standby to work closely with the health authorities and government to manage symptomatic people, with clear procedures and trained experts to manage and track people within the greater university community who possibly had contact with them for the screening of Covid-19.

Staff and students can send enquiries to or call 0800 029 999 toll-free. An information leaflet detailing the virus, its symptoms and where to get help is being circulated to staff and students.

“It is our hope that this effort, under our banner #ukzncovid19, will support and benefit our local communities to detect, prevent and respond to the virus. As an institution of higher learning, with exceptional clinical expertise, we will no doubt be called upon to support eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg, and the rest of the province, should the need arise, and we must remain ready for such responsibilities.

“We may call upon our UKZN community to join the Covid-19 community mobilisation campaign, which will involve our volunteers and staff going out in the community, with local and provincial government, to create awareness about the spread of the disease," Poku said.

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