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Masiyiwa urges multi-stakeholder collaboration in fighting COVID-19 in Africa

Strive Masiyiwa

Businessman Strive Masiyiwa has urged Africans to adopt what he calls the ‘ITTIT’ formula to fighting the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic as governments across the continent gradually ease national lockdown restrictions imposed to reign-in the spread of the disease.

Writing on his popular Facebook blog following his appointment by the African Union as a Special Envoy to Coordinate the Africa Private Sector Initiative for the Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment and other Essential Supplies, Masiyiwa says the key to stopping the disease in its tracks is to adopt the formula #ITTIT; inform, test, trace, isolate and treatment as a collaborative effort among the private sector, NGOs, businesses and faith-based organizations.

Masiyiwa writes:

A simple formula for fighting the virus.

We all have to go back to work, if we still have a job, otherwise our families will starve, and our already frail economies will collapse. So how do we stop the rapid spread of the disease, other than by lockdowns?

For me, to reduce the frequency, duration and necessity of lockdowns, the answer is and has always been as follows:

I – Inform; T – Test; T – Trace contacts; I – Isolate; T – Treatment  #ITTIT!

Let’s look at each one:

1. #ITTIT! – Inform

We need to continually @Inform everyone about the virus, and how easily it spreads. We must also @Inform the most vulnerable groups who face the greatest danger from this disease. There are a lot of people who believe that the lifting or easing of lockdowns means the danger has gone away. It has not! Until such time as the world finds a cure and/or a vaccine, the danger persists.

Remember, accurate information is critical, given the persistent misinformation that goes on, especially through Social Media platforms.

2. #ITTIT! -Testing

Ideally, you need a test that detects the infection as soon as someone comes into contact with the virus. The best we have at the moment is something called a “PCR test” (polymerase chain reaction test).

In an efficient system, it takes about five hours to get the result. In some less efficient systems, it takes up to several days, which means the person could have infected others in those five hours or more.

The PCR test is also expensive, and could cost up to $20 if you don’t have the volume buying capacity. The kits are in terribly short supply, and no African country (except South Africa) has been able to secure sufficient volumes to be able to raise its testing game to the level required.

There is a less effective test known as the “Rapid Detection Test” (RDT). It can give you the result in just 15 minutes. Unfortunately, this test needs to be taken at least seven days from the time you are infected, which means you could have unknowingly infected a lot of people during that time.

While RDT tests are plentiful, some of them are very “dodgy”. They don’t work very well, so don’t rush to accept one if you don’t know where it came from! They are also much cheaper. I have bought some for as little as $6. 

So, what do we do? Remember my maxim: “Don’t make perfect, the enemy of good.”

The answer is simple: Why not buy RDT test kits in millions, and test as many people as possible?

Rwanda, for instance, is doing about a 1 000 tests a day (the best after South Africa and Senegal). This is brilliant. I have urged them to go to 10 000 per day, and given their leadership, it is in sight. 

The only way a country can expand testing is to build a broad #TestingAlliance, which includes the private sector, NGOs, business, and faith organizations. As I have said before, we need to demystify #Testing for COVID-19.

Yes, COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease, but that does not mean a private doctor who has a clinic cannot test for it. As long as there’s a water-tight process for collecting results quickly, and to authenticate the test kits used, it should be quite simple to do.

(My team at Sasai Global will next week release a free mobile App which helps governments and citizens to manage mass testing. It is called the Sasai Status Report. I will talk about it again).

3. #ITTIT! – Trace contacts

The purpose of #Testing is to find those people who have the infection, and are spreading it to others near them, usually without even knowing that they have it.

Once you identify people who have tested positive for COVID-19, they must be isolated in a safe place from others, until the virus is out of their system.

As soon as someone tests positive for the virus, the health authorities will want to sit them down and learn about their #Contacts to help them, their families and others in their community stay safe. They will ask things like: Where have you been recently where you might have been exposed to the virus? Who have you been in close contact with?

That is the first step in contact #Tracing.

If possible, you then want to find those other people they were in proximity with, and then help them too, by testing them. They may be asked to go into immediate self-isolation. With this pandemic, hard things are really hard.

Rwanda again provides the best example that I have heard about. They have built a National Tracing Center, where 600 trained young people are calling people in after they are identified.

This is phenomenal, and it is not difficult to duplicate. Actually, if a government partners with its mobile operators who have huge 24-hour call centers, the Rwanda system can be duplicated in just one week!

Talk to Econet, MTN, Glo, Vodacom, Orange to help with #Tracing! They also have a lot of other cool tech tricks they can deploy for this, which they use when helping the police track stolen phones!

4. #ITTIT! – Isolation

Successful #Testing and #Tracing, must lead to finding people who must be isolated and put into a safe and healthy “personal lockdown”.

A person who is infected is not a criminal and must not be treated as such! They are citizens who must be treated with compassion, kindness, and support, as they face a potentially life-threatening disease. 

One sad reality in Africa is the fact that 56% of our populations live in what is often referred to as slums, or informal settlements. Even those who live in proper housing are crowded and often have lodgers (in-house tenants), or share housing with other families.

In this situation, a single infected person could mean that 10 family members are also infected. In a major breakout (which sadly may still happen in some countries), how we deal with those who are infected and suffering at home is going to test our compassion as a society. 

I have urged governments to consider working with religious organizations and NGOs to offer the option (which has to be voluntary to work), of self-isolating in groups at churches, mosques, community centres, schools, supported by faith leaders, NGOs, etc.

In Zimbabwe, our family foundation has partnered with church leaders to set up 20 such centres in case there is a major outbreak.

5. #ITTIT! – Treatment

COVID-19 has no known treatment yet. Most people who get it will recover, even though it may be extremely painful and uncomfortable. 

Even in the most (economically) developed countries like Britain and Italy, which were hit hard by COVID-19, most people were nursed back to health from home. In Africa, where we have very few hospital beds, we need to be focusing our energy on how we provide #home-based care.

Providing clean, dry shelter, with blankets and hot nutritious meals, including being prepared to rush to someone’s home with oxygen bottles to help their breathing, is more important than only chasing after ventilators. We must be practical in these situations.

I am all for training thousands of community health workers, who are volunteers and highly motivated. This is how we dealt with Ebola. South Africa and Rwanda have already unleashed thousands of community health workers.

Hospitals? That is obvious, so what more can I say?

Here is how you can help, as a member of this platform: Promote #ITTIT!

Let’s do hashtags, t-shirts, Instagram, WhatsApp messaging…

Be #PartOfTheSolution.

Get everyone to understand that they must be involved in #ITTIT!

Thank you.

(To be continued. . .)

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende