While it
is both unfortunate and bad luck that COVID-19 has reached pandemic proportions
at a time when South Africa is already grappling with concomitant disease
issues such as HIV and tuberculosis, there is a silver lining, Minister of
Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, assured his physical and live stream audiences in a
presentation aimed at healthcare professionals from the SA Medical Association
(SAMA) offices last night.

“There is
no other country in the world that can give us much information about the response
of various individuals to an infection of this nature (COVID-19) in the
presence of, for example, HIV infection and concomitant TB. So there is space
and scope for new research,” he said, stressing the “huge opportunity” to
discover the conduct of concomitant viral infections and ultimately research
into their management and treatment.

Among the
situations making this possible, Mkhize explained, was the inevitability of ‘ambiguous
cases’ such as one recently presenting in Vryburg where the patient’s COVID-19
results were “weak positive”: “The patient was asked  whether she had travelled. She hadn’t but her
husband travelled a lot. We had to ask what effect that actually had on the
patient and decided it was not too relevant. As a result, on general
validation, it came back negative.”

Nowhere
else in the world would one get weak positive, ambivalent results and indeterminate
kind of tests. But interestingly, said the minister, these were features only
picked up in South Africa thereby warranting unique research

“We can
expect interesting trends as clinicians, virologists and various types of
research groups look at lot of these issues, and by the time we emerge from the
COVID-19 will be wiser on other things arising from unintended consequences.

“It is
unfortunate and bad luck that we are at the epicentre of various epidemics at
the same time but,” Mkhize offered, “it is an opportunity to become leaders in
world medicine by discovering new things. Don’t get fearful! Let’s venture out,
grasp these opportunities and emerge victorious over this ‘fearful’ infection –
and the whole combination of them – to provide solutions for not only ourselves
but the world as well.”

Concluding
in similar vein, Mkhize assured his audiences that despite having possibly the
world’s worst burden of disease, South Africa has the possibilities and
resources, international partners and global bodies willing to assist in
achieving these goals: “We also have keen researchers who can actually grow to
become top class in various areas not for anyone else but for us.”

Alluding
to a WHO webinar he had seen earlier in the day depicting the positive COVID-19
developments emerging in China attributed largely to the measures taken, Mkhize
said: “One day it will be what happened in South Africa.

“The world
will be looking at us!”