West Africa: a systematic response to coronavirus

Recording new infections is vital to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The authorities in Nigeria and Ghana are therefore adapting the systems they already have in place.

A vital tool in the fight to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic are systems that are capable of registering new cases in a central database as swiftly as possible. For countries with remote regions and decentralised governance systems, this is no easy task. In Ghana and Nigeria, however, the health authorities have not had to develop any new solutions but have instead been able to draw on a tool that is already in place – the Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS). SORMAS has already been in use for a number of years to monitor outbreaks of infectious diseases in West Africa and was expanded at the beginning of February to enable authorities to document cases of Covid-19 in both countries.

SORMAS was developed back in 2014 by a consortium that included the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to improve surveillance of the Ebola virus outbreak in Nigeria. On behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and co-financed by the European Union (EU), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH provided support to expand the system in Nigeria and to transform it into an open-source tool. As a result, it is now easier to integrate it into existing systems.

SORMAS can be used by health care personnel to record data on new infections and contact persons for their locality. The system then automatically transfers this data in real-time to the central health authority. This makes it possible to rapidly initiate control measures across several levels. Since SORMAS can also be accessed on tablet devices and mobile phones, cases from remote or structurally weak regions can be registered quickly too. SORMAS is designed to be flexible, with separate modules for each disease. This meant that the module for tracking coronavirus infections could be added within just a few days.

GIZ is currently assisting regions in Nigeria and Ghana in applying the new coronavirus module and is drawing on existing experience in the process. ‘Covid-19 hasn’t changed what we do,’ says project manager Sabine Ablefoni. ‘On the contrary – it has shown everyone how relevant our work is.’ Some 400 districts that had already used SORMAS for other infectious diseases are now applying it to record Covid-19, including at airports and seaports. The system can also be used in other countries, too.

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