South Africa says it is ready for a coronavirus outbreak

February 5, 2020

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases recently issued a statement declaring confidence in the nation’s epidemic-prevention machinery to meet the challenge posed by the newly emerging coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

There is considerable traffic between mainland China, the Pacific-Rim countries, Australia and South Africa (and Lesotho), prompting the NICD to give citizens the assurance “that we are prepared for the eventuality of an outbreak”.

Is the claim credible? In Vital Signs: Health Security in South Africa (Johannesburg, Brenthurst Foundation), released on 30 January 2020, we document that it is. The NICD is a high-performing infectious disease detection and surveillance agency. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Joint External Evaluation (JEE) gave South Africa a technical assessment rating of four out of five for surveillance and a five out of five for the laboratory testing. In October 2019, the Global Health Security Index produced by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the Johns Hopkins University and the Economist Intelligence Unit gave the country full marks for its laboratory and intersectoral human-animal-environmental data systems. For real-time surveillance and reporting, we received a decent score of 78.3 out of 100.

A core entity at the NICD is its Special Pathogens Unit, led by the able Dr Janusz Paweska. Paweska led South Africa’s response team to assist with the West African 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak as part of the international effort. He directs a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) laboratory, one of only two on the African continent (the other one is in Gabon), which has the systems to securely house and contain high-consequence pathogens like Ebola and Marburg.


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SOURCE: Daily Maverick

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