UKZN CORONAVIRUS WAR ROOM SET FOR LAUNCH

The threat of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) is compelling motivation why we, as a University, need to constantly be alert and put in place pro-active and pro-response mechanisms to combat diseases and illnesses. The rampant COVID-19 pandemic has already spread to six continents and there are no signs that it is being brought under control.

Starting today, the University’s College of Health Sciences headed by Professor Busisiwe Ncama is instituting a large-scale high level surveillance, prevention and response measures to make sure that we are ready for when COVID-19 is detected in our vicinity. The plan offers a coordinated cohesive strategy for preparedness, and will require each and every one of us to get involved. We believe that prevention is better than cure in this instance. Given the high concentration of people on our campuses – students and staff – prevention and protection against the spread of disease is critical.

The project will be led by Professor Mosa Moshabela, the Dean and Head of School: Nursing and Public Health. Moshabela will be leading a team of experts comprised of Dr Velile Ngidi, Public Health Medicine Registrar; Dr Richard Lessells, Infectious Disease Specialist; Dr Saajida Mahomed, Public Health Medicine Specialist UKZN; Dr Lilishia Gounder, Clinical Virologist; Dr Nokukhanya Msomi, Head of Virology at UKZN; and Dr Saloshni Naidoo, Head of Public Health Medicine.  Members of UKZN Occupational Health and Campus Health Services, Mr Muzi Mthembu, Ms Gugulethu Mdunge, Ms Jane Taylor, Ms Nozipho Jali, Ms Jabu Hlophe, will also form part of the team to ensure institutional readiness for COVID-19. The University is committed to putting in place measures to strengthen these essential campus health services before our campus is hit by the virus.

Our team heading the project will also co-opt experts and volunteers from various colleges, schools, disciplines, travel, and other university structures and student communities to assist in awareness and provide expert advice.

The objective is to immediately launch a multi-disciplinary campus health ‘war room’, which will be the first of its kind. When launched, the ‘war room’ will provide the necessary evidence and guidance to effectively respond to COVID-19, and this may include a policy of quarantine, including self-quarantine, in all possible cases of exposure for the duration of the incubation period, and based on any requirements by the health authorities such as the Department of Health, National Institute for Control of Disease (NICD), and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As many of us well know COVID-19 emanated from the Hubei province in central China at the start of the year, and has to date exceeded 80 000 infections leading to about 3 000 fatalities.

Although no cases have been detected in South Africa, even after more than 120 tests were conducted in the country, the WHO expects most if not all countries to detect cases. We know cases have already been detected in Nigeria, Algeria Egypt, Morocco and that two South Africans have been diagnosed in Japan, and more than 150 South Africans in Wuhan will be brought back into the country.

Our high-level approach includes:

  1. The rollout of a high-impact health awareness campaign. This is to empower our staff and students with information on the virus along with travel advice to reduce the risk of infection to themselves as individuals, and thereby reduce the risk of transmission of the infection to others. Should anyone become infected, they will be equipped with important factual knowledge about the virus.
  2. An effective infection control and health promotion intervention:  This involves high-impact efforts to promote, implement and monitor hygiene behaviours and practices likely to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by all staff, students, contractors and visitors at all our campuses. The multi-faceted approach will include hand hygiene practices, the use hand sanitisers in every building and entrance, cleaning high-risk surfaces correctly and adoption of correct cough/sneeze etiquette.
  3. A fully trained team will also be on standby to work closely with the health authorities and government to manage symptomatic persons, along with clear procedures and trained experts to manage and track people within the greater university community who possibly had contact with them for the screening of COVID-19.

Our ground team is currently assessing the type of resources and training that campus health services and staff require. Apart from ensuring that adequate clinical management protocols and procedures are put in place, they will also ensure adequate infection control measures, protocols and equipment – including personal protective equipment, gloves and N95 masks – are also made available if and when required. Other processes and procedures including diagnostic facilities, equipment and support such as effective transportation and institutional readiness are also part of the plan.

The university will furthermore, in the incoming weeks, build capacity to keep track of all known cases globally, regionally, nationally, provincially and locally. Going forward our team will keep a close watch on COVID-19 in South Africa, having access to dashboards and databases that will allow us to know how the spread of COVID-19 is unfolding should it approach South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal, and such information will be shared with all stakeholders.

The rollout will also include the tracking of movements of all staff. Working with the internal travel agency, staff members are also encouraged to limit non-essential travel to high risk zones. Enquiries can immediately be sent to covid19@ukzn.ac.za made available to staff and students, and a hotline number for students, staff and the community to call to learn more about COVID-19 will soon be made available, but the NICD free hotline (0800 029 999) can be used in the meantime.

It is our hope that this effort will support and benefit our local communities to detect, prevent and respond to the virus. As an institution of higher learning with exceptional clinical expertise, we will no doubt be called upon to support eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg, and the rest of the province, should the need arise, and we must remain ready for such responsibilities. We may call upon our UKZN community to join the COVID-19 community mobilisation campaign, which will involve our volunteers and staff going out in the community, together with local and provincial government, to create awareness about the spread of the disease.

For risk assessment, travel advice and queries please email covid19@ukzn.ac.za

Issued by
Professor Nana Poku
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of KwaZulu-Natal

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