Medical Student to Lead African Youth Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Final-year Medical student at UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Mr Kapil Narain has been appointed as the Chair of the Federation of African Medical Students Association (FAMSA) COVID-19 Technical Working Group (TWG), a continent-wide youth response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee comprises members from 15 countries with a gender balance, and translators to ensure that all countries in Africa can access the information it generates. Narain is the only South African on the committee.

This appointment was based on research and leadership experience.

Narain’s duties include planning a co-ordinated response that is cognisant of the global and local contexts of the pandemic by leading discussions on interventions and ensuring that the youth are at the forefront of initiatives.

‘I am honoured to be appointed to this position, and am excited to be working with students from various African regions to play a vital part in combatting this pandemic through research, awareness, activism, and art, as well as engaging with various health bodies. Currently the pandemic has reached the five million mark with more than 300 000 deaths globally. Whilst the US has the highest number of cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that Africa may be the next epicentre. This is of serious concern given the fragility of the continent’s health systems. Now more than ever, we require all hands-on deck!’

The TWG aims to ensure that Medical students are at the forefront in the response to COVID-19 across Africa.

Its roles include:

•    Sharing facts about COVID-19 to dispel myths and misconceptions about the pandemic

•    Carrying out online campaigns on COVID-19

•    Keeping abreast of the latest research and provide sound technical advice aligned to the WHO

•    Leading Medical students from across the continent in carrying out research on COVID-19 by developing standard operating procedures and guidelines

•    Sharing information on how Medical students from across the continent are contributing to the response to COVID-19

•    Acknowledging the efforts of various workforces from across the continent in the fight against COVID-19

•    Highlighting the challenges faced by African countries and potentially providing innovative solutions

•    Working with the FAMSA executive council to involve Medical students from across Africa in the fight against COVID-19.

The TWG has held a consultation with African Union (AU) youth envoy, Ms Aya Chebbi. FAMSA is also part of the African Youth Front, a multi-stakeholder advocacy group that provides a platform for African youth to contribute to the implementation of the African Continental Strategic Plan for the COVID-19 Pandemic. According to Director of the African Centres for Disease Control (CDC), Dr John N Nkengasong, ‘African youth are central to the fight against COVID -19.’

As Chair, Narain was a part of a webinar with junior doctors and Medical students on 12 May hosted by Operation Smile, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to delivering free surgery. He shared the platform with young leaders from Cameroon, Canada, the United States, Greece and Germany, to discuss how students’ are contributing in combatting COVID-19.

FAMSA was founded in 1968 to foster cooperation among African Medical students. It is an independent, non-political federation comprising 8 000 members from 30+ countries and is recognised by the WHO and the AU as the official international forum of African Medical students. Its vision is ‘To become a strong network of Medical students, aware of global health issues and responsive to the current questions facing the Medical profession and global health.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied