Durban - Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has created a team of over 50 expert advisors who he can turn to for guidance on critical health issues as the country tries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 is chaired by Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who is a world-renowned HIV scientist and infectious diseases epidemiologist. The committee works in the background, bringing together scientific evidence and experience to provide to the Minister and the Department of Health.
The advice shared with Mkhize takes the form of guidelines that the department will release or advice on specific topics to help Mkhize to make the best decisions in our country’s fight against the Coronavirus.
This is what you need to know about the advisory committee.
Why an Advisory Committee?
South Africa has chosen to respond to the Coronavirus armed with the best available information and evidence. Since SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus and the disease it causes, Covid-19 is a completely new disease, Mkhize called on our country’s experts with experience in dealing with other epidemics, particularly those tackling epidemics caused by viruses like HIV.
Who is on the Ministerial Advisory Committee?
Doctors and specialists in infectious diseases, virologists, epidemiologists, public health practitioners, mathematical modellers, laboratory specialists, social scientists and health care experts from across the country.
There are sub-committees dealing with clinical matters, laboratory testing, public health strategies and research.
The committee of clinicians, chaired by Professor Marc Mendelson of the University of Cape Town, is working on the guidelines which includes how to determine what is a case, deciding on admission criteria, what approaches should be taken as to who gets a ventilator.
The laboratory testing committee, chaired by Professor Koleka Mlisana of the National Health Laboratory Service, is advising on how to scale up testing and what test kits are best.
The public health committee, chaired by Professor Shabir Madhi of Wits University, is focusing on what the public health response should be. This committee’s advice was sought on the plan to deploy 10 000 community health workers who will go out to do field screening and testing.
The fourth committee is the research committee, chaired by Professor Glenda Gray of the Medical Research Council.
What’s next in the government's coronavirus response?
“The Committee includes many from the cream of South Africa’s experts, and scientists and clinicians. They are people who understand how viruses spread and the challenges we face as individuals, families, communities and a nation to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. They are a multi-disciplinary team including public health practitioners, epidemiologists, clinicians and mathematical modellers,” said Abdool Karim.
Abdool Karim said they were relying heavily on the Chinese experience and are trying to avoid the pattern followed in Italy, where many deaths occurred.
“We draw from their research and experiences. Most of the countries that have gone into lockdown have followed the Chinese approach. The United States is not following this model, except in some states, for their own reasons and are now the worst affected country in the world,” he said.
South Africa showed strong leadership in taking the bold step of a lockdown, he said.
In China, their lockdown was quite effective with no new local cases of coronavirus reported in that country over the past week.
“They are now having their second small epidemic which is imported cases of people travelling from other countries to China," said Abdool Karim.
Even after the lockdown in our country is over, we will need to take every precaution to prevent the coronavirus from spreading here again.”