SA must learn from other countries’ best practices

The South African authorities could learn a lot from Asian countries like Taiwan, who did not wait for confirmation of the first case in the country, but took proactive steps to detect the virus, the writer says.
The South African authorities could learn a lot from Asian countries like Taiwan, who did not wait for confirmation of the first case in the country, but took proactive steps to detect the virus, the writer says.
Image: STR/AFP

Over and above encouraging citizens to practise good hygiene, and take precautions, on March 15 President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a raft of interventions, including closure of land, air and sea ports.

They also included prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people, and closing schools as a response to Covid-19.

Since his announcement, the number of cases has risen from 61 to 150. As SA now enters the territory of a Covid-19 explosion, what lessons can it learn from other countries?

World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a briefing last Friday, called for countries to take a comprehensive approach to dealing with Covid-19.

"Our message to countries continues to be, you must take a comprehensive approach; not testing alone, not contact tracing alone, not quarantine alone, not social distancing alone; do it all."

The government should be commended for realising that SA is not exceptional.

Ghebreyesus emphasised the need for every country to learn from the experiences of other countries that have effectively addressed epidemics in the past.

Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong offer great examples and lessons. Hong Kong was at the epicentre of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in recent history which affected the world, but mostly Asian cities.

It was predicted that Taiwan, located off the coast of mainland China, would have the second highest incidence of coronavirus.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association details the Taiwanese response. Authorities did not wait to receive confirmation of the first case in the country, but took proactive steps to detect the virus by testing passengers on flights from Wuhan (where the disease originated) for fever and pneumonia symptoms.

Between January 20 and February 24, it implemented a coordinated response led by the minister of health and welfare, which included mass public education, providing relief to businesses and formulating policies for schools.

Singapore is an example of how Covid-19 could potentially be contained and neutralised.

It has succeeded in producing high recovery rates and limiting transmissions despite its proximity to China.

Hong Kong implemented wide scale social distancing, closing schools, businesses as well as cancelling social gatherings.

WHO's advice to countries is first, prepare and be ready, second, detect, protect and treat, and third, reduce transmission, and fourth, innovate and learn.

"The lessons I've learnt is that virus will always get you if you don't move quickly," said Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme.

SA will have to move faster to apply lessons and global best practice to reverse the trend of increasing local transmissions that have the potential to overwhelm the ailing public health system.

*Runji is a senior socio-political analyst at Critical ThinkAR

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