Health Facilities Must Be Kept Running To Treat Non-COVID-19 Illnesses ― MSF

Healthcare facilities must be kept in operation to treat people with illnesses aside from COVID-19 during the pandemic, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, has warned.

The international humanitarian medical organisation made this appeal on Monday during a tweetchat with HumAngle while highlighting challenges West African countries are facing in responding to the pandemic.

“Laboratories for testing Covid-19 suspected cases were initially mainly in capitals. And it is critical to increasing testing capacity and access to testing across each country,” MSF said.

It said, for example, in Niger, there is only one testing centre in Niamey and a second laboratory should be open soon in Maradi.

“Healthcare facilities must keep operating in a COVID context, especially for common diseases. They must keep providing regular health care by taking all needed infection prevention and control measures to protect healthcare workers and patients,” the group added.

“Suspected and mild cases must receive support at home, such as medical follow-up and advice. To avoid the risk of contamination, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the people with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension must self-isolate where possible.”

There have been reports of hospitals in Nigeria turning regular patients away because of stricter admission guidelines or the lack of personal protective equipment. Last month, Dr Francis Faduyile, president of the Nigerian Medical Association, blamed the trend on the lack of testing capacity.

“Nowadays, we are having patients who are coming to the hospital and are not given adequate treatment because attending physicians are not sure of the status of the patients,” he said.

“This is where the mass screening test will come in and can help in resolving some of the issues that we are facing generally.”

MSF noted that it is not confirmed that the rates of infection and recovery are better in West Africa compared to the rest of the world because of limited testing capacities in the pandemic’s early period.

“Hence a comparison is impossible. The number of severe cases seems to be lower now in developed countries, but it’s too early to say definitively,” it concluded.

“In developed countries, elderly people with chronic conditions pay a heavy toll of the pandemic. There may be fewer severe cases among the large young ppl in West Africa. But there is so far no clear evidence that the incidence rate is better in West Africa than in Europe.”

The organisation noted, discussing with various health authorities in order to provide “technical advice on patient flow and case identification in healthcare facilities”. It has also been training health care workers on Infection Prevention and Control protocols.

Its priority, it said, is to maintain its “current projects which save thousands of lives”.

“We reinforce infection prevention protocols for our staff, adapt triage processes and establish isolation zones for patients with COVID symptoms. We also inform communities on prevention measures,” it added.

“In Mali, MSF is participating in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) in the management of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the Point G Hospital in Bamako. Treatment is provided free of charge from oxygen, drugs and pain management to checkups and medical examinations.

“In Bamako, we started supporting the MoH for tracing in the community the persons in contact with positive cases, distributing cloth masks to these contacts and the most fragile people and setting up hand-washing stations in the blocks and in buildings open to the public.”

MSF urged other humanitarian actors and organisations to continue to assist their host countries in managing the health crisis.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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