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Education is the best way to flatten the coronavirus curve. That is the message from Nelson Mandela University professor and director of the university’s Centre for Community Technologies, Darelle van Greunen.

Addressing a webinar yesterday organised by the university, together with the deans of science and public health, on the theme “When is the peak — Covid-19 data models”, Van Greunen said predictive models were useful only if they were tempered by the daily reality of ordinary people.

“One of the aspects we need to consider in SA is fear of the unknown, of the disease itself and of the stigma that is sometimes attached to it,” she said.

“Those things are unnecessary and we need to educate people to overcome them.”

She said she regularly had to deal with high-risk coronavirus situations as part of her work but protected herself by following the correct protocols.

“So it’s to do with education and knowing what needs to be done to stay safe.”

Referring to finance minister Tito Mboweni’s emergency budget, which was delivered yesterday, Van Greunen said any plans to reignite the economy would come to nothing if people did not abide by basic hygiene and social distancing principles.

“Those people who are not wearing their masks or washing their hands need to change their behaviour.”

Van Greunen said the ideal was to create a decentralised model to curb the virus, which took into account international and national tendencies but focused on data produced provincially and locally.

In the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay, the high prevalence of underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and malnutrition had to be factored in as well as the strong social value attached to funerals, for instance.

“There has been a tremendous collaboration behind the scenes between industry, government and academic institutions to put infrastructure and skills in place and to produce decent data in order to create a decentralised model that will predict when the pandemic will peak in Nelson Mandela Bay,” she said.

“We’re hoping to go live with that next week.”

NMU health sciences dean Prof Lungile Pepeta said he agreed with the Western Cape approach of testing only people over the age of 55 or those with comorbidities.

“We do not have the resources to test everyone.”

The virus was highlighting what was already known about the poor level of care in Eastern Cape state hospitals due to resource and manpower inadequacies.

It had also shown the optimal way forward for the government health system, which had to concentrate on perfecting primary health care, Pepeta said.

NMU science dean professor Azwinndini Muronga said though it was easy to create a predictive model when a population was highly restricted, each reduction in restrictions opened another window to movement and engagement, making predictions increasingly complex.

“We were looking at a Covid-19 peak in mid-July but it is possible we have not yet seen the full impact of the reduction from level 4 to level 3,” Muronga said.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 25 June 2020 written by Guy Rogers.


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