Some of the UKZN COVID-19 team members. Back from left: Professor Saloshni Naidoo, Dr Lilishia Gounder, Dr Velile Ngidi, Dr Saajida Mahomed, and Sr Jabu Hlophe. Front from left: Sr Nozipho Jali, Professor Mosa Moshabela, Dr Richard Lessells, and Sr Jane Taylor.

UKZN is set to launch a ground-breaking Campus Health “War Room” to support international efforts to fight the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

To bolster these efforts, the University has created an email address: covid19@ukzn.ac.za and the hashtag: #ukzncovid19 for staff and student queries. A hotline will also be established to communicate with its stakeholders about the virus. The general public toll-free number 0800 029 999 can be used in the interim. An information leaflet on the virus, its symptoms and where to get help, is currently being circulated among staff and students.

‘The new Coronavirus highlights why we, as a University, need to be constantly alert and put in place proactive and pro-response mechanisms to combat diseases and illnesses,’ said Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Nana Poku. ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has already spread to six continents and there are no signs that it is being brought under control. Starting on 3 March, the University’s College of Health Sciences, headed by its Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, is instituting large-scale high level surveillance, prevention and response measures to ensure that we are ready when COVID-19 is detected in our vicinity,’ he added.

‘The plan offers a co-ordinated, cohesive strategy for preparedness, and will require each and every one of us to get involved. We believe that, in this instance, prevention is better than cure. Given the high concentration of people on our campuses, prevention and protection against the spread of disease is critical.’

The project will be led by Professor Mosa Moshabela, Dean and Head of the School of Nursing and Public Health, who will lead 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; Dr Lilishia Gounder, Clinical Virologist; Dr Nokukhanya Msomi, Head of Virology; Dr Saloshni Naidoo, Head of Public Health Medicine; Professor Yunus Moosa, Infectious Diseases; Dr Nithendra Manickchund, Infectious Diseases; Mr Muzi Mthembu, Campus Health Services; Ms Nozipho Jali, Campus Health Services, Ms Gugu Zondi, Campus Health Services; Ms Gugulethu Mdunge, Campus Health Services; Ms Jabu Hlophe, Campus Health Services; Ms Jane Taylor, Campus Health Services; Mr Sandile Nzuza, Information Systems; and Ms Normah Zondo, Corporate Relations.

‘The University is committed to putting measures in place to strengthen these essential campus health services before our campus is hit by the virus,’ added Poku.

The team heading the project will also co-opt experts and volunteers from various Colleges and other University structures.

‘The “War Room” will provide 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, based on any requirements of the health authorities such as the Department of Health, National Institute for Control of Disease (NICD), and the World Health Organization (WHO).’

Poku added that, while no cases of the disease have been detected in South Africa, the World Health Organization expects most, if not all countries, to detect cases. ‘Cases have been detected in Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and Morocco, two South Africans have been diagnosed in Japan, and more than 150 South Africans in Wuhan will be brought back to the country,’ he said.

The UKZN high-level approach includes:

1. The rollout of a high-impact health awareness campaign, including information on the virus, and travel advice.

2. Effective infection control and health promotion among staff, students, contractors and visitors to UKZN, including hygiene practices, hand sanitisers in every building and entrance, cleaning high-risk surfaces correctly and adoption of the correct cough/sneeze etiquette.

3. A fully trained team will be on standby to work closely with the health authorities and government to manage symptomatic persons, alongside trained experts to track and manage people within the greater University community who had contact with them for screening for COVID-19.

‘Our ground team is currently assessing the type of resources and training that campus health services and staff require. Other processes and procedures – including diagnostic facilities, equipment and support such as effective transportation and institutional readiness – are also part of the plan,’ said Poku.

In the coming weeks, UKZN will build capacity to track all known cases globally, regionally, nationally, provincially and locally. Going forward, the team will keep a close watch on COVID-19 in South Africa and such information will be shared with all stakeholders.

The rollout will also include tracking the movement of all staff. Working with the internal travel agency, staff members are encouraged to limit non-essential travel to high-risk zones.

‘It is our hope that this effort will support and benefit our local communities in detecting, preventing and responding to the virus. As a Higher Education Institution with exceptional clinical expertise, we are ready to support eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg, and the rest of the province, should the need arise. We may also call upon our UKZN community to join the COVID-19 community mobilisation campaign, which will involve volunteers working with local and provincial government to create community awareness of the spread of the disease,’ said Poku.

Click here to view more information on COVID-19.

Words and photograph: Ndabaonline