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Homeland Security

South Africa: UN health agency sends experts to help battle against COVID-19

5 August 2020 - new "surge team" of leading UN health experts is on its way to South Africa to ramp up the COVID-19 response there, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

With the southernmost country on the continent, now among the top five of the world's most affected, WHO underscored that it is critical to strengthen its COVID-19 response.

"At this time, when the COVID-19 epidemic in South Africa is spreading rapidly, it is important that we work together to intensify our fight against the virus", said Owen Kaluwa, WHO Representative for South Africa.

To help manage the coronavirus outbreak, WHO will be deploying 43 experts from various fields, including seasoned infectious disease epidemiologist and public health expert, David Heymann, who headed the response to the 2003 epidemic of the closely-related viral respiratory disease, SARS.

WHO will be complementing scaled-up national and provincial responses to minimize the spread and impact of COVID-19.

"Our collective efforts are necessary to identify cases, isolate and provide care, follow up contacts and fully implement physical distancing and other key public health measure", said the WHO official.

Nuts and bolts

WHO will fund the international surge team and South Africa will provide administrative resources. The team will be jointly led by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, and Executive Director of the agency's Health Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan, who will work virtually from Brazzaville, Congo, and Geneva respectively, to support the experts on the ground.

"Dr. Moeti and Dr. Ryan have become familiar and trusted figures in the fight against COVID-19", said South African Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize. "They have been supporting and complementing our national efforts and we have had very fruitful and honest discussions with them".

Before their deployments in the provinces of Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Kwazulu Natal and Mpumalanga, the delegation completed an initial period of quarantine and testing.

"These provinces have been identified as the ones needing the most urgent support where the first team can make the most impact", according to General Health Director Sandile Buthelezi.

Tasks ahead

The surge team aims to contribute to national efforts, including in surveillance and streamlining of epidemiological systems.

It intends to improve case management by promoting WHO's global COVID-19 response guidelines and reduce the burden on hospitals by increasing community buy-in to assure greater compliance with public health measures.

'Key priority'

WHO's Regional Office for Africa has made supporting South Africa "a key priority", according said Dr Moeti, who affirmed that working together "will help flatten the curve and save lives".

"Our solidarity which spans the globe is a model partnership for an effective response", she concluded. "United we will defeat COVID-19."

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