Home South African WHO Covid-19 surge team arrives in SA

WHO Covid-19 surge team arrives in SA


Health minister says the country needs the WHO team because it has not passed the Covid-19 peak and especially as it had the fifth-highest positive cases globally.

43 health experts from the World Health Organization are in South Africa to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Fernando Vergara AP

HEALTH Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned South Africa not to be like other countries that have witnessed a second surge of Covid-19, which has caused more destruction.

He issued the warning during a virtual event on Friday to welcome 43 health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) to help combat the pandemic, of which 16 had already arrived.

Mkhize said the country needed the WHO team because it had not passed the peak and especially as it had the fifth-highest positive cases globally.

“We are only now considering easing some of the restrictions and we are still to cross that critical juncture of reopening of our borders.

“Apart from the impact on the health system that this virus has had, we are still faced with the devastation it has caused in our social lives, our well-being, the economy and the environment,” he said.

“Those already with us have begun an orientation period to ensure there is optimal alignment of programmes.”

He said the surge teams would conduct surveillance and streamline epidemiological systems, supervise the WHO’s global Covid-19 response guidelines, manage cases and provide expertise in communications and stakeholder engagement to “increase community buy-in of public health measures”.

“With this team buttressing our efforts we should further look for opportunities to emancipate the impoverished, the oppressed and the vulnerable using innovations that have emanated from the crisis.

“If history will be altered, it should not be because some won and some lost because of the pandemic – it should be that we all held each other’s hands and pulled each other though the storm,” Mkhize said.

He welcomed the WHO team a few hours after he defended the deployment of Cuban doctors in South Africa to fight the spread of Covid-19.

Mkhize, his deputy Joe Phaahla and Cuba’s ambassador to South Africa Radolfo Benitez Verson attended the virtual briefing. About 67 000 doctors have been deployed to 60 countries.

Mkhize urged South Africans to emulate the example of the Cubans by also volunteering their expertise to countries in need.

He said the partnership between South Africa and Cuba was sealed in blood as the latter assisted in the fight against apartheid.

After the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro forged a partnership, which led to the formation of the Cuba Doctor Training Programme, which saw more than R600 million being invested in training over 2 900 doctors between 2012 and 2019.

“This year, over 650 graduates from this programme will be absorbed into the South African health care system at a time when they are most needed.”

Verson said it was the moral duty of Cuba to respond to the South African government’s plea for doctors. He said it was symbolic that they arrived on April 27, Freedom Day.

“Almost half a million Cuban combatants came to Africa to fight against colonialism and apartheid, (and) 2 289 of them died combating here in Africa. So for us to be selected to come as medical doctors and health professionals to South Africa, we are very proud of that,” said Verson.