Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, there have been many voices on what measures are effective in curbing its spread. Dr. Grace Ikahu-Muchangi sought perspectives of public health experts around the world on their expert opinions on this pertinent matter.
Here are the opinions of 12 public health experts on the top ten most effective public health measures against the spread of COVID-19.
1. Focus on Prevention
Martin Muchangi, a Public Health Specialist, says that the mainstay of public health interventions against COVID-19 infections is centered on Prevention, Dr. Wanjiru Njugi agrees that prevention strategies remain the most effective means of curbing the spread of COVID-19, are more cost-effective than the treatment measures, and save on the time used in the healthcare system during treatment.
Preventive measures against COVID-19 include the use of masks, social and physical distancing, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette, as explained below:
a) Use of Masks
The most effective preventive measure against COVID-19 is the use of masks to reduce the viral spread, according to nine of the 11 experts interviewed, i.e. Dr. Wanjiru Njugi, Non-communicable diseases specialist, Joan-Paula Bor Malenya, Epidemiologist & Public Health Specialist Technical Lead at PHC Ltd, IOM Ebola Response in DRC, Jack Musembi, Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, African Resource Centre Country Director Anthony Okoth, program manager at Ministry of Health, Dorcas Kiptui, Associate Professor & Dean, School of Science, Technology & Engineering, Rongo University, Kenya Charles FL Mbakaya, Ph.D., CEO at BELL Consultants Michael Kiragu and Head Of Public Affairs at Novartis SSA, Nathan Mulure.
Jack Musembi promotes the consistent and correct universal use of face masks to reduce respiratory transmission in light of infections by asymptomatic persons. According to Dr. Wanjiru Njugi, masks act as the blockades that ensure the droplets from one’s mouth do not leak into the air. Moreover, she adds that this strategy ensures that sneezes and coughs are largely contained as well as preventing someone from inhaling air that may contain such droplets. Country Director at African Resource Centre Anthony Okoth describes wearing masks as a “lifesaving” intervention. Michael Kiragu, an Independent public health consultant insists that face masks must be used properly for them to be effective.
b) Social and Physical Distancing
Social and physical distancing is the second most effective Covid-19 preventive measure, several experts agreed, namely: Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, Dr. Wanjiru Njugi, Martin Muchangi, Jack Musembi, Anthony Okoth, Dorcas Kiptui, Charles FL Mbakaya, Ph.D., Michael Kiragu and Nathan Mulure.
Dr. Wanjiru Njugi describes the social distancing mechanism as acts as buffers by reducing the distance between any two individuals. Additionally, Public Health Specialists Martin Muchangi and Dr. Lawrence Mbae, promote physical distancing by minimizing/limiting public gatherings is also highly effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19.
c) Promote Hygiene
Promotion of hand hygiene through the use of sanitizers and handwashing with soap and water as simple but effective covid-19 prevention measures, according to several experts, including Joan-Paula Bor Malenya, Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, Anthony Okoth, Gakii Murithi, Martin Muchangi, Michael Kiragu, and Nathan Mulure.
Head of Department of Primary Health Care at Ministry of Health Kenya Salim Hussein agrees that the most effective public health interventions is behavior change communications for both health workers and to promote intersectoral to achieve health and well being.
d) Respiratory Etiquette
Respiratory etiquette, which entails means covering of the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, is also a highly effective public measure against Covid-19, according to specialists Martin Muchangi, Joan-Paula Bor Malenya, and Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson.
2. Covid-19 Screening for Early Detection
Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, a Public Health Specialist, Martin Muchangi, and Jack Musembi identify screening of suspected cases as the most effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19. According to Martin Muchangi, this should be done for high-risk persons, such as international travelers to minimize the spread of the disease.
3. Suppression and Slowing Down the Transmission of the Virus Transmission
Suppression and slowing down of the spread of the virus should be the third area of focus of public health measures against Covid-19 Martin Muchangi. He emphasizes that this should also be backed up by strong and robust public health surveillance.
Suppressing the spread of the virus can be done in several ways, including through isolation, quarantine, restriction of movement, and contact tracing. This is what the experts had to say:
According to Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, isolation is effective for “those who are sick or display signs of infection”. He adds that once the virus is detected early, then positive cases can isolate themselves. Isolation “interrupts silent transmissions and separates those infected from those that are not”, says Jack Musembi.
b) Quarantine and Limitation of Movement
According to Dr. Wanjiru Njugi, home confinement and centralized quarantine break the chain of transmission by decreasing the spread of cases.
c) Contact Tracing
“Health workers should trace the people who have been in contact with Covid-19 positive patients”, says Dr. Mwakangalu Dickson, highlighting this as a strategy of slowing down the spread of the virus.
4. Communication and Health Education
Dr. Wanjiru Njugi, Health economics and policy expert Seleyian Tanyai, Public Health Specialist, Lisa Karani, and Professor Solomon Omariba highlighted the importance of adoption of effective communication and health education to sensitize the masses about Covid-19 to provide messages to the masses on how to reduce the viral transmissions through social distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing masks.
Dr. Wanjiru Njugi stresses that this strategy is most effective when targeting the older populations that are most at the risk of contracting Covid-19. Lisa Karani advocates for a strategy that uses community health volunteers to educate people in the villages, bus stops, business premises, and in the health centers, while Solomon Omariba considers health education through the media and other channels most effective.
5. COVID-19 Vaccine
The Covid-19 vaccine that will soon be rolled out will also be an effective intervention against Covid-19. This was highlighted by the county director at African Resource Centre Anthony Okoth and Health economics and policy expert Seleyian Tanyai, Martin Muchangi, and Charles FL Mbakaya, Ph.D. Dr. Lawrence Mbae is also confident that mass immunization will curb the spread of Covid-19.
6. No shaking Hands
Not shaking hands to reduce physical interactions has been advocated by Ministry of Health program manager Dorcas Kiptui as an effective measure.
7. Improved Home-Based Care
According to Charles FL Mbakaya, Ph.D., the time between “when people get infected and when they get help is unacceptably long.” He adds that the health system should be able to provide “urgent help at home” before the need for hospitalization.
8. Closing Schools
Closure of schools and learning institutions is necessary to increase social distancing. This is according to Head of Public Affairs at Novartis SSA, Nathan Mulure.
9. Drugs and Nutritional Products
There is a role for medications or nutritional products, especially in the early stages of the disease, even though information about them may not be perfect, and they should be given a chance, says Charles FL Mbakaya, PhD
10. Improve the Implementation of Existing Strategies to Control the Spread of COVID-19
Associate Professor & Dean, School of Science, Technology & Engineering, Rongo University, Kenya Charles FL Mbakaya, Ph.D. is disappointed how long it is taking to effectively provide public health leadership for containment of this pandemic and the death toll, especially in the USA and in Europe and disproportionately among people of color. He adds that measures that are already proven to be effective, such as wearing masks and social distancing work to contain the pandemic, if practiced consistently.
Other Effective Measures
Graduate Research Assistant Gakii Murithi says that Wearing N95 masks (for normal use) and hazmat suit (for health workers/high-risk use) correctly, sanitizing surfaces, and avoiding high-risk places to her are the most effective ways to stop the spread of Covid-19.