A staff member wearing a mask monitors thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the…
FILE - A staff member monitors thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, China, Jan. 21, 2020. To help guard against coronavirus, Senegal installed thermal cameras at the shipping port and airport.

DAKAR, SENEGAL - Officials in West Africa are standing guard after a suspected case of the coronavirus was reported in Ivory Coast earlier this week.

West Africa is no stranger to deadly epidemics — during the 2014 to 2016 Ebola outbreak, more than 11,000 people lost their lives. By some measures, the disease has made the region stronger, as some government officials were quick to respond when reports of the coronavirus began surfacing.  

Dr. Ousmane Gueye, director of Senegal's National Service of Education and Health Information, is seen at the Ministry of Health in Dakar, Jan. 28, 2020. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA)

Doctor Ousmane Gueye, director of the National Service for Education and Health Information with Senegal's Ministry of Health, says any time an epidemic outbreak occurs that has the potential to spread to Senegal, the government forms a national committee that includes the ministries of health, livestock and environment.

Those ministers have created a toll-free emergency number that residents can dial in the event of suspected infection. They've also broadcast announcements via TV and radio to inform people what to do if they exhibit symptoms, and they've installed thermal cameras at the shipping port and airport that can detect if a traveler has a fever.

As of Wednesday, no cases of coronavirus in West Africa had been confirmed, though one suspected case in Ivory Coast was still under investigation.

West Africa is home to thousands of Chinese nationals and has strong ties to China, putting the region at a disadvantage regarding the virus, according to Dr. Michel Yao, a program manager for emergency response for the World Health Organization in Africa.

"There is an increased partnership between African countries and China," he said. "So we have many people in business, traveling between two countries. Africans going to import goods from China and also Chinese implementing business in Africa."

Yao said countries can best protect their residents by closely monitoring their ports of entry.

"Based on the fragility of services in many African countries, the key element will be early detection for appropriate measures to be taken, including to isolate the person and provide adequate treatment, as well as monitor people."

Many West Africans share Yao's concern.

Dakar resident Maya Diop said though the situation is nothing like what she experienced during the Ebola outbreak, she's still worried. Some Senegalese have family in China, she explained, and those people could return to Senegal without knowing whether they have the virus and possibly transmit it.

Sadio Mane cooks crepes at Sucre Sale in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 29, 2020. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA

Sadio Mane, a cook in Dakar, said he, too, was worried because "people are always traveling, left and right."

As the number of those infected rises, so does concern the disease will reach the shores of West Africa.

Special Section