By Yankuba Jallow and Nelson Manneh
Dr. Amadou Samateh has told the National Assembly Select Committee on Health that the country is free from the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Honourable Samateh led a delegation from the Ministry of Health (MOH) that appeared before the NA Select Committee under the chairmanship of Honourable Ousman Sillah of Banjul North.
The World Health Organisation on Thursday, 30th January 2020 declared the new Coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of international concern. The Minister said his ministry has strengthened its effort in the fight against the disease.
“The Ministry is strengthening the surveillance system especially at the international and land crossing points of entry to enhance screening for severe respiratory illness. The MOH through the surveillance unit will continue to provide updates about the spread and risks associated with the virus transmission as they are available,” the Minister told the legislators.
He told the lawmakers that they have informed the general public about the outbreak through a press release which according to him was important because it is a global outbreak and the release will inform the public about it.
He informed the lawmakers that his Ministry has informed and shared relevant information with regions and hospitals to be on the alert and enhance their systems for severe acute respiratory infection cases detection and management system. He said they are preparing the central level isolation centre for handling cases. He added the 125 free toll call for the general public provided by all national GSM a provider is already activated and in use.
He maintained that the Ministry in collaborations with the IOM Gambia is providing materials/logistics support and capacity building to all the Points of Entry (POE) staff at the seaport, airport and land borders to prepare them for proper monitoring and management of international travellers.
He said there are one hundred and ninety Gambian students in China and twenty-one among them are living in Wuhan area which is the most affected area. He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in close contact with them and they will take all necessary steps to ensure their safety.
He said three Chinese nationals in URR have travelled to China but one has returned to the Gambia well, but he was asked by the Chinese Embassy to stay indoors under strict monitoring.
He told the deputies that two Gambian students returned from China and the two are under constant monitoring and in contact with the surveillance team. He said on the 6th February 2020 four Gambian students arrived at the Airport through Brussels but after they were screened, they have no symptoms.
The Coronavirus is a large family of virus that cause disease in mammals and birds. According to the Minister of Health, human infections occur initially through contact with animals, then spread person to person, adding that it causes common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome among others. He added that the symptoms begin two to fourteen days after infections.
He said there are 24,554 global total confirmed cases and 491 (66 new) total deaths in mainland China. He said in China alone, there are 24,363 cases. Outside China, there are 191 confirmed cases and 24 countries are so far affected.
He said Africa is not yet affected, but they have to work as a Ministry tasked with the responsibility of health to prevent this from entering the Gambia.
The MOH and partners recommended that there should be continued sensitisation of staff in all regions, hospitals, health facilities and all designated 9 points of entry. Also, they recommended that they should be conducting in-depth assessment of national capacities for case detection, case investigation and contact tracing, isolation and case management, IPC and risk communication as rapidly as possible. Additionally, they recommended that they should continue collaboration with partners to mobilise and strategically allocate resources (prepositioning). Finally, they recommended they should coordinate and mobilise resources to enhance the national surveillance system.
The Minister said currently no vaccines or recommended treatment exists, therefore people should avoid non-essential travel to and from affected areas especially in China. The MOH recommended that people should cover their cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue paper and they should wash hands frequently as possible with soap or use hand sanitizers. Also, the MOH recommended that those with the mild symptoms should stay at home and avoid infecting others adding that they should not go to school, to work, or to other places until you are completely free of all symptoms. Also, they recommended that those with severe symptoms (difficulty in breathing) should go to a medical facility. They called on people to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections and they should also avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
The Ministry of Health called on the Gambia Government to prioritise efforts to set aside dedicated accessible funds for public health emergencies for the country
In their intervention, the lawmakers conceded to the idea of having an emergency fund in the national budget as they all undertook to push that agenda before the National Assembly.
“We will ensure that we have an Emergency Fund in the budget. This is important,” Hon. Ousman Sillah said as he thanked the Ministry for the work they have done.
Sillah said the Ministry has done what was expected of them and he urged them to do more to ensure that the Gambia is free from the virus. He told the Minister and his delegation that their Committee is ready to work with them and they should always update them on the state of the disease. Honourable Sillah recommended that the Ministry should issue a weekly update about the virus on the radios, television and newspapers to inform the public about what they are doing and the state of the virus in the country. Sillah urged all media houses to participate in the advocacy about the virus adding that the Ministry should provide all media houses with regular updates.
Honourable Amul Nyassi, the member for Foni Kansala said the idea of Emergency Fund is important and he promised to push the agenda for the consideration of the whole National Assembly.
Honourable Amadou Camara said the border entry points should be capacitated to ensure The Gambia is saved from the virus. He suggested to the Ministry to do communication in different ways to ensure that no Gambian is left behind with regards to information.