Since the beginning of the year, the spread of coronavirus has dominated the news, and for good reason. So far, the virus has infected about 82,0000 people worldwide and killed about 2,900.
In a new development, Nigeria confirmed the first case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa on 28 February. The virus was brought by an Italian citizen working in Nigeria, who is currently stable with no serious symptoms.
It comes as no surprise that coronavirus has now reached sub-Saharan Africa, but this doesn’t make the news any less alarming. Fortunately, the Nigerian government has invested in improving its public health system and prepared for the disease to reach the country.
“Nigeria has dramatically improved its ability to manage the outbreak of a major pandemic since the Ebola scare in West Africa in 2014,” says Folasade Ogunsola, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Lagos. “Any of the lessons from keeping the country free of Ebola have informed the steps taken since the news of the coronavirus epidemic first broke.”
Despite these efforts and lessons learned, Nigeria is still under-resourced. And it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches neighboring countries that are less equipped to manage a pandemic of this nature. Nigeria, with 196 million people, has the highest population of any African nation. It is more difficult to contain diseases in highly populated areas, creating even higher risk of coronavirus spreading to other countries.
The lesson from this cannot be clearer: diseases know no borders. Global health security is only as strong as the world’s weakest health systems, as we are seeing (and will continue to see) with epidemics like coronavirus. It is all our interests to invest in better health systems everywhere to keep people healthy, safe, and free of preventable diseases.