Since the first reported case of a novel coronavirus in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, the virus has flighted a global spread that resulted in the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring a pandemic of COVID-19 on 11 March 2020. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting 185 countries and territories, with a reported 2.4 million known cases and over 165,000 known deaths to date (2020.04.20). Although the virus reached Africa later than other regions, the continent now has over 20,000 known cases. The first week of March saw the South African Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize confirm the first COVID-19 case in South Africa, with its origins traced to a group of 10 South Africans who returned from Italy on March 3rd. South Africa now has the highest number of confirmed cases on the continent, at 3 158.
As it stands, countries from the United States of America to China are experiencing nationwide COVID-19 testing and resource shortages at a facility level. As a result, it is expected that the exact figure of affected patients is likely higher than reported globally. This occurrence not only affects a facility’s ability to treat patients, who are potentially at risk, but also hinders a facility’s ability to effectively manage, develop provisions, and implement containment strategies for any further outbreaks within surrounding areas.
Moreover, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a unique public health threat for some African countries. Overcrowding in emergency rooms, nonadherence to infection prevention and control precautions, as well as possible environmental contamination are implications related to the outbreak of COVID-19 that could systemically affect certain regions in Africa. Furthermore, the emergence of COVID-19 further exposes these regions to the following critical challenges:
- Inadequate supply of respiratory support systems for infected patients;
- Insufficient capacity of facility staff trained on COVID-19;
- Delays in the availability of COVID-19 lab results;
- Insufficient quarantine facilities that can accommodate the growing number of infected patients;
- A lack of Health Information Management Systems (HIMS) that screens for the of COVID-19 and links infected patients to quality care;
- A lack of Health Information Management Systems (HIMS) that evaluates facility readiness of public and private hospitals and staff;
- Lack of interoperability between core systems to share COVID-19 data between sites and at the national level;
- A lack of Health Information Management Systems (HIMS) that train and educate healthcare providers, patients and citizens on of COVID-19 prevention, control and on-boarding;
- Absence of comprehensive of COVID-19 focused data management systems that offer real-time overviews at facility, region, and patient-level to facilitate data-driven decisions;
- Developed containment and resource allocation strategies based on real-time informed analytics.
Based on the above information, these challenges highlight the need for improved (technology-based) health data collation and integration to allow for optimised resource allocation and management of COVID-19. It is for that reason the Consortium of public and private organisations included in this proposal have joined forces to offer a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern Africa.
Please click here to read about the high-level conceptualisation of how existing technology developing in Africa, for the use of public healthcare as well as existing public healthcare partnerships, can be leveraged to serve as a rapid response tool for COVID-19.