The emergence of the Coronavirus disease 2019 otherwise known as Covid-19 has triggered worldwide panic, anxiety and confusion. This is perhaps because Covid-19, is a new disease that could spread its tentacles quickly if not urgently and decisively contained. 59 countries have so far reported cases of Coronavirus.
Although Covid-19 has been described as a killer disease, it is important to give it some context. Covid-19 is a type of pneumonia whose exact cause is not yet known. The disease was first reported in China in December. Since then, it has spread rapidly and as of February 28, an estimated 84,124 cases had been reported with a death toll of 2,867 people.
So far, 36,711 patients have recovered from the disease. Even in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, with close to 100,000 people so far infected, only 3000 have died.
This signifies a low fatality rate despite the widespread panic the disease has sparked globally. Compare this to three million people who died of infectious diseases like malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculous globally in 2017. That’s roughly 250,000 victims every month.
This is not to downplay the potential devastating impact of Covid-19. It is notable, however, that Wuhan is a major transportation hub in China hence the high caseload reported there. Given how little Kenyans travel compared to Europeans, Americans and Asians, the risk contracting Coronavirus within Kenya still remains low.
That notwithstanding, there is need for greater surveillance at our airports and border entry points to prevent the disease spreading here from other countries. The public should also remain take self-preventive measures and report any suspected cases to the authorities promptly.
Once infected with the Coronavirus, there are high chances one can recover fully. But this will depend on a number of factors besides how fast one seeks medical intervention. Persons suffering poor health or other respiratory tract infections are most at risk of succumbing to the disease. Viral infections are most dangerous where a person has a weakened immune system. Vitamin D and zinc deficiency has also been flagged as potential risk factor.
The most important point to emphasize is that one should urgently seek medical attention immediately they notice symptoms of the disease. These include coughing, sneezing, fever and other flu-like symptoms. Covid-19 is primarily spread from person to person via droplets transmitted through the air thus increasing the risk of contracting the disease in crowded places, especially where one comes into close contact with infected persons.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) droplets containing the virus cannot travel far but they settle on surfaces such as door knobs, tables, stairways and windows, which if touched increase the chances of a person becoming infected.
Coronavirus has no cure or vaccine. Prevention is the best cure for now. In addition, seeking medical attention as soon as one notices likely symptoms increases chances of survival. One should avoid self-treatment as the disease cannot be cured by antibiotics since it is not a bacterial but viral disease.
Fortunately, the global scientific community is already developing a vaccine following early release of the genetic sequence of the Coronavirus by Chinese researchers. More than 20 vaccines are being developed globally according to WHO, with some already undergoing clinical trials. There is rising hope that a Coronavirus vaccine will be available soon.
To effectively tackle the Coronavirus threat, we need to shun stigma involving negatively associating sections of the population with an infectious disease. This is not a ‘Chinese disease’ but a serious health threat facing mankind. Stigma hinders efforts to contain the disease as it drives people to hide the illness and not seek treatment.
As WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “solidarity not stigma” is vital in the success of the global effort to combat the Coronavirus threat.
We also need to be alert to myths being peddled that we should be all walking around in masks. There is no solid evidence that facial masks, though a good precaution, prevent a person getting the virus. In fact, WHO warns that incorrect use of masks can further fuel the infection and as they may provide a safe haven for the virus. Masks should not be used more than once.
Everyone should be encouraged to embrace healthy behavior emphasizing personal and respiratory hygiene. Getting a flu shot and pneumonia vaccine also helps. Wash surfaces with soap, 60-70 per cent alcohol detergents or bleach. Clean your hands thoroughly and regularly and avoid touching your face. When coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with tissue and discard it promptly. Drink lots of water since body hydration is known to mitigate the impact of viral infections.
Also, calm down and ignore the social media panic and disinformation spreading like bush fire about the disease. Most of the commentary is unscientific and based on ignorance. Instead, seek expert medical advice and if sick, stay at home.
Importantly, pay attention to official communication by the government and especially the public health authorities on measures one should take to avoid contracting Covid-19, and also regular updates on the global situation. On that note, the government is to be commended for moving swiftly last week to establish a multi-agency response team to step up the country’s preparedness and ability to contain an outbreak of the disease in the country.
The government has also put in place disease surveillance and management measures to handle any outbreaks. These include establishing a quarantine center at the Mbagathi Hospital as well strengthening vigilance at our border entry points. However, every citizen has a crucial role to play in preventing the spread of the disease.
The incoming Health CS Mutahi Kagwe has his work cut out for him. He should move with alacrity to infuse discipline in the national response to Coronavirus while instilling public confidence in the country’s ability to manage the potential health crisis if Covid-19 were to hit our shores.
Peter Wafula Murumba is the Managing Director of Impulso Kenya Limited