IT IS not possible for government to quarantine everyone who is coming into the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic because of limited resources, says the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) country director Professor Victor Mukonka.
And Prof Mukonka says while the country has enough COVID-19 testing kits at the moment, swabs have become a rare commodity but government is making fronting efforts to access some.
Speaking when he appeared on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Prof Mukonka said people who arrived in the country without showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19, were spared from being quarantined.
But when programme host, Grevazio Zulu, asked if there would be a mandatory quarantine, Prof Mukonka said it would be costly for government to quarantine everyone.
“The recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) is that if one is coming to an area which is infected, symptomatic, we isolate and these are the ones in our facility. But if one is just coming from affected countries asymptomatic, these are the ones we quarantine for a period of 14 days. But you track them, should they develop signs or symptoms, immediately we move them. Now, you see the challenge, for example we have screened over 30,000…if we were to say that all these 30,000 we are going to quarantine them in our facility, you know what it takes? It is going to take quite a lot of resources to get them into hotels, to feed them for 14 days and the number keeps increasing,” Prof Mukonka said.
Asked why people could not be quarantined at their own cost, Prof Mukonka said government was considering it.
“Yes, that is what has come; we have identified some facilities…you will be hearing very soon, probably a day or two. What we want to do is also to move them at their own cost into some places we will identify for quarantine. We are also getting ready should we have a major local transmission because self-quarantine wouldn’t work in a place like Kanyama so it will mean that those, we will be moving them into places where they are locked,” he responded.
Meanwhile, when asked how ready Zambia was in terms of test kits, Prof Mukonka said there was a shortage of swabs, with the country still awaiting a consignment from China.
“We got 100 tests from the WHO in the initial stage, which we have been using. And from there, we secured another 1,000 tests from the Africa Union Africa Centre for Disease Country (CDC) and then we have 20,000 right now in our strategic warehouse. So, in terms of the testing, I think we have enough. It is the swabs, which have (become) a rare commodity. We used to get them from Italy, but they have closed, and then you can’t find them in the local market, you can’t find them in the region. But we have organized through our colleagues from America CDC also through the African Union, Africa CDC, and also through our colleagues in China to ensure that we have the things. In terms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we have enough and there are some more coming. Also our Ambassador in Germany has organized where we can source some. The ventilators, we have a number that have been procured, even in the country we have, I may not have the exact number. Oxygen concentrates we have,” Prof Mukonka said.
He, however, acknowledged that Africa’s health systems would come under severe pressure to contain the Coronavirus pandemic.
“No, there is no need to panic! Things are under control and we are very positive that with the few cases that we have, we can still manage to ensure that it doesn’t spread across the country. Right now, and in the coming days, you will see zero reporting or one. You saw even yesterday (Sunday), we did 50 and only one has come out positive. And we have covered the whole cohort, who are linked to the people who came from Pakistan because that was a source of infection in the country. So, it means that the country, in the coming days, you will probably see us cover zero cases,” Prof Mukonka said.
“Well, the way I would describe it is that the cases we have experienced are basically imported so they have been imported in the country and then the local interactions we have seen the local transmission between person to person. However, I must emphasize that the cohort is under our confinement so we have ensured that we shield the public. The rest of the world, as you are following, the epidemic has shifted from Asia to Europe. Initially, the epicentre was in China and a number of Asian countries. Now, the epicentre is in Europe and America, but increasingly we have seen our continent, Africa, affected so it may shift into Africa. It is already coming and the worrying part about Africa is that we already have weak systems in terms of health systems and the effect may be quiet severe. Besides that, our economic muscle is not as great as you see in developed countries so this is why we really need to intensify in terms of preventive measures and limit spread in the country.”
He disclosed that the Institute was monitoring over 6,600 suspected COVID-19 patients.
“There are two critical measures we have put in place. One is the stop to import the cases, these are the cases coming into the country and, secondly, is to limit or stop the spread in country so we limit the local transmission. In terms of stopping cases from coming in the country, there are a number of measures, which are in force right now; one of them is the intense screening we are doing in all our border areas. It is not only at the airports, but in the road and linked to that is active surveillance to follow up these cases. We have screened over 30,000 and actively as I speak, now, we are following 6,649. We have cleared now 479 who have passed through the incubation period. You must understand that if we work together, we limit the spread within the country. Also, we work together with our neighbours we ensure that each country restricts its citizens from moving, that we shall prevent the infection,” he said.
Prof Mukonka said there was no need to restrict planes from landing in the country because essential services were being still delivered through them.
“We have put across recommendations in terms of looking at how we shield the borders, but we need to be prepared. You know that the supplies we need for testing, PPEs are coming from abroad so we don’t manufacture them, so we are doing the stock piling. We need to do our homework to ensure we have food security or the necessary supplies, which are needed for the period if the situation gets out of hand; if we have to lock, we have these items in the country. You know that we depend on fuel from our neighbours for it to come here, we are a landlocked country so there are certain things, which need to be put in measure. But you also need to look at the evolving of the epidemic. Right now, the fire is in Lusaka in a particular area, it has not hit every corner of the country. But what is more important, I think, it is the actions individuals take if we all stick to personal hygiene. We have gone 50 per cent into the prevention; it is very key that people stay at home. Avoid overcrowding places,” urged Prof Mukonka.