Health stakeholders within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region are meeting in Monrovia to take stock of status implementation of the recommendations and lessons learned from the recent unprecedented deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak.
The EVD outbreak, which started in March of 2014 in Liberia, recorded nearly 5,000 deaths in Liberia alone and more than 11,000 in the region and beyond. But Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the most hit and recorded the worst number of deaths.
Formally opening the three-day post-Ebola outbreak regional meeting on Monday, April 10, at a local hotel in Monrovia, Liberia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn said they had also met to look at recommendations from the ‘Decisions of the Heads of Governments and States of ECOWAS and the Abuja Declaration’ aimed at improving the regional and sub-regional capacity for prevention, detection and response to threats of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
“Today, we gather here to technically review status of implementations that formed the bedrock for articulating our investment plans for building a resilient health system. It is anticipated that conclusions reached from this deliberation will constitute the ‘Monrovia Declaration’ to be endorsed by Heads of Governments and States of ECOWAS,” Health Minister Dahn said.
Speaking further, Dr. Dahn told her audience, who had met under the auspices of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), that the recent EVD experience in the region continuously reminds and challenges them that everyone is at risk to any disease outbreak; adding: “we should be adequately prepared. Disease threat in any of the ECOWAS states is a threat to all of us including the international community.”
Against this background, ECOWAS continues to engage with all the three worst EVD affected countries in their recovery journey towards rebuilding resilient health systems.
Dr. Dahn praised the efforts of the Authority of Heads of States and Governments of ECOWAS, ECOWAS Commission and WAHO for working closely with EVD affected countries in tracking and monitoring the post-EVD recovery process.
“In Liberia, we will build on these partnerships and develop the necessary capacities as defined by recommendations from the International Health Regulations (IHR) Joint External Evaluation and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to prepare, detect and respond rapidly and effectively to disease outbreaks, multi-hazard threats and other humanitarian emergencies.”
The Liberian Health Minister disclosed that Liberia is still recovering from the economic shocks that had accompanied the EVD outbreak and that it had immensely affected the domestic resource mobilization efforts. She further mentioned that it is a tedious journey to get the economy back to its pre-Ebola status.
She also stated that post-EVD investment plan that the Liberian government had put in place, did not attract the much-needed funds to facilitate adequate implementation of the outlined priorities. She hopes that strong partnership will continue to play a meaningful role in filling the critical gaps, which are yet to fill.
Dr. Dahn recognized that though there are ongoing works with in ECOWAS to improve prevention, detection and response, owning to some weaknesses on the part of the regional body, she is; however, hopeful that through strong national commitment, collaboration and partnership all the necessary capacities will be established.
Speaking earlier, the Director General of WAHO, Dr. Xavier Crespin, said their gathering was very important because they were meeting on the request from leaders in the regions especially from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is the Regional Coordinator for the Fight Against Epidemic in the Region.
“The main objective of the meeting is to access where we are in term of implementing the key decisions reached by the Heads of States and Governments. Some of the key decisions made during the last three years including putting in place an ECOWAS Regional Center for Disease Control,” Dr. Crespin said.
The WAHO DG further stated that over the next three days, they are going to exchange on where they (member states) are with the implementation at the regional as well as the national levels in term of setting up national coordinating units. He also stated that they are going to also look at where they are in term of setting up efficient laboratories, training of technicians, researchers and epidemiology surveillance in health information system.
Dr. Crispin stressed that among their main objectives is the “one health approach,” which had been adopted by health stakeholders in the region. According to him, this approach is being spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and animal health organizations.
“So last year in December, the Heads of States decided that now we need to work based on the ‘one health approach.’ It is important during this meeting to also access where we are in term of involving the other sectors and not only the human health sector.”
The WAHO DG also stated critical during their deliberations will be to look at the contribution toward the ‘solidarity fund,’ which was agreed upon by Heads of States of the region.
The contributions towards this solidarity fund is be made by member states so that when there is any health emergency, money can be taken from there to help that country.
He reminiscence that based on contributions from some member states, WAHO, through ECOWAS, was able to send over a hundred medical personnel in the three worst affected countries during the Ebola crisis.
Also speaking earlier, Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Health for Disease Surveillance and Epidemic Control, Mr. Tolbert G. Nyenswah, stated that since the EVD transmission was declared over as no longer posing public health emergency of international concern, they have been struggling with rebuilding their healthcare system especially countries that were most affected by the Ebola virus disease.
Minister Nyenswah said the disease affected cross-border trades and brought about travel restriction and economic shutdown.
He stated, however, since the outbreak was declared over, they have put in place mechanisms for building resilient healthcare system in Liberia.
According to him, one of the best lessons they learned during the crisis is the establishment of a National Public Health Institute in Liberia and their first concentration is on disease surveillance.
He spoke of the Liberian Government making significant progress aimed at building a resilient Health sector following the deadly Ebola virus disease.
For his part, ECOWAS Representative to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde O. Ajisomo congratulated the Liberian government for establishing the National Public Health Institute.
“This meeting, I need not stress is very important as we were here last year when we examined the global recommendations which were put together on post-Ebola recovery. Today and tomorrow, we will be looking in the extent to which we have been able to implement those recommendations.”
He reminded the audience that epidemic has become a major problem in the region. The Ecowas Representative expressed his appreciation that WAHO and ministries of health in the region were doing all they can to keep the region healthy.
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Kobby Blay is the chief health editor at Ghanahealthnest.com. A professional practicing nurse with specialty in mental health and focus for health communications, public health, travel photography, ICT and systems perspective for health improvement.