Niamey — Niger has witnessed a decline in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks following a surge. Public Health Minister Hon. Botto Ahmet explains what it took to cut back infections and the efforts being strengthened to curb the spread of the virus.
Niger country is experiencing a decrease. What strategies have helped bring this about?
The second wave of infections began in November 2020 in Niger. We recorded 3405 cases between November and 8 February, accounting for 74% of the total number of cases registered so far. Currently we're witnessing a decrease in cases, with cumulative weekly cases falling from 1.8 cases per 100 000 people to 0.43 per 100 000 people. To curb the spread of infections, we strengthened tracing of contacts of travellers who tested positive. Initially in the second wave there was a huge number of travellers who were testing positive but were asymptomatic.
We also provided a response package comprising treatment, investigation, contact-tracing, infection prevention and control as well as counselling for patients in one site. This helped with acceptance of treatment. Additionally, we launched systematic screening of at-risk population groups [migrants or people in displacement sites] and isolation which contributed to lowering community spread.
Deploying multidisciplinary expert teams to affected regions due the influx of people through land borders proved crucial in the response. We also improved access to testing, monitoring of cases as well as setting up integrated hospital care services that includes triage, sample collection, testing and treatment. Measures taken by the government such as closure of businesses also helped cut back infections.
What measures need to be bolstered to keep cases low?
Niger, like many countries in the sub-region, faces the challenge of COVID-19 denial. This leads to low adherence to preventive measures. Thus, the first measure to ensure cases remain low is to raise awareness of the prevention measures. The measures already in place must be maintained and even reinforced. These include testing of outbound travellers which helps in detecting asymptomatic cases - who are provided with an integrated package of medical services - efficient contact-tracing, isolation of contacts, improving access to testing across the country as well as integrating COVID-19 care in all health facilities. All this must be supported by active surveillance and quick decision-making, especially reporting alerts, listing and follow-up of contacts.
What lessons have been learnt in COVID-19 response and how can they be applied to ensure a successful vaccination campaign?
The country conducted an intra-action review of the COVID-19 response in September 2020 to identify best practices, lessons learned, areas for improvement and to further strengthen the ongoing response. At the end of this exercise, each [response area] identified three priority actions to be taken in the short term to improve the response and the response plan.
One of the main lessons learned from the COVID-19 response is the strong commitment of the government and technical and financial partners to support the fight against the pandemic. Also, the involvement of different sectors, experts and layers of civil society has helped to improve decision-making and community engagement. Increased communication has made it possible to face several challenges related to the management of the pandemic. These lessons learned need to be capitalized and strengthened to ensure the success of the vaccination campaign.