Officially launching the programme on behalf of the Deputy Health Minister 1, the Acting Director, Disease Prevention and Control in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Alfredo Moosa said the Ebola virus disease has been a unique phenomenon in West Africa because of the heavy burden it has placed on communities in hard-hit countries.
He stated that the Ebola epidemic, outbreaks of cholera, Meningitis, and Lassa Fever have also been reported in the West African region, adding that these epidemics have shown the inadequacy of national health systems and the weaknesses of regional mechanisms for surveillance, early warning, emergency preparedness and response to epidemics and effective coordination and risk communication.
Dr. Alfredo Moosa informed his audience that with the goal to adopt common strategies to end the Ebola virus disease epidemic in the sub-region, and address the post Ebola socio-economic development needs, the Heads of States of the Mano River Union, including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia met in February 2015 and endorsed a common strategy to that end. He added that through that focused effort and subsequent follow-up review, the countries developed and approved a strategy for reaching and sustaining zero Ebola infection in the sub-region with special emphasis on many areas including surveillance and cross-border collaboration, institutional coordination, health workforce capacity development, risk communication and health systems strengthening.
He said it is expected that the project when fully implemented will protect the population more effectively against infectious disease outbreaks and there will be effective control measures. He added that a well-structured inter-institutional communication and coordination will facilitate a more coordinated approach to pandemic preparedness between the institutions, partners and the member states.
In his statement, the German Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Wolfgang Wiethoff said the Ebola outbreak in 2014/2016 in West Africa highlighted the importance of country capacities for pandemic prevention and control and the collaboration between countries in such public health emergencies not only in the region, but globally.
He disclosed that Germany has demonstrated its engagement in highlighting the topics around pandemic preparedness and prevention through the strengthening of capacities of the International Health Regulations (IHR) by the 6-points-plan by Chancellor Angela Merkel and placing it on top of the agenda of the latest G7 and G20 meetings.
The German Ambassador told the gathering that through the Special Initiative Health in Africa, Germany has supported Africa partner countries to strengthen their health systems and to improve the response in health crisis situation.
He said one of the initiatives is the Regional Programme Support for Pandemic Prevention in the ECOWAS Region which takes a regional approach together with the West African Health Organization, the newly established Regional Centre for Disease Surveillance and Control and the ECOWAS Commission to address the existing challenges in disease control in the ECOWAS region under the International Health Regulations.
The Representative of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) office in Sierra Leone, Ms. Klare Heyden said the ECOWAS region continues to experience recurrent outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases or other public health events, and recalled the devastating consequences of Ebola epidemic and also the recent death of health workers due to Lassa fever in Nigeria.
She said these recurrent epidemics in some Member States can also be viewed from the perspective of being at different levels of implementation of the core capacities of International Health Regulations to promptly detect, prevent and respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Klare Heyden said there is need to have the Regional Programme Support for Pandemic Prevention in the ECOWAS region as it will further strengthen the regional capacities of ECOWAS and its specialized institutions and agencies in providing advice to member states in implementing International Health Regulations.
She reminded all that the RPPP aims at strengthening capacities in Health Risk Communication, Inter-institutional communication and coordination, and strengthening human resources, adding that these areas of capacity strengthening are key and essential for a better control of infectious diseases.
The GIZ representative disclosed that their project is part of a joint programme of the German Development Cooperation together with kfw which aims at strengthening laboratory capacities and surveillance, and also implementing bilateral projects aiming at pandemic preparedness and responses in the region, especially in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Giving a welcome address, the WAHO Representative, Mr. Salifou Zouma said WAHO with technical and financial support from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany through the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) has established the Regional Programme Support for Pandemic Prevention in the ECOWAS Region (RPPP) with an amount of 7 million Euro over the period 2016-2019.
He said the main objective is to strengthen the advice provided to ECOWAS member states by the ECOWAS Commission and specialized institutions and agencies in relation to the implementation of selected mechanisms in the field of epidemic control in accordance with the International Health Regulations.
The ceremony was chaired by the Communications Pillar Lead at the Public Health National Emergency Operation Centre (PHNEOC), Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Mr. Harold Thomas.