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What single health platform can support multi-sectoral collaboration and coordination on epidemics and health emergencies in West Africa?

By Dr. Kuassi Virgil Lokossou
on August 11, 2017

West Africa is regularly faced with threats and socio-economic consequences of epidemics caused by infectious diseases, including zoonotic diseases. This is largely due to the fact that humans and animals share the same ecosystem with an increased risk of disease development and globalization trends due to rapid population growth and high mobility, climate change and massive urbanization. Prevention, preparedness and response to major public health events require collaboration between several sectors, namely human health, animal health, agriculture and water resources among others.

To this end, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) agreed on a partnership to promote an integrated approach towards the management of epidemics and other health emergencies, based mainly on strengthening collaborations between the main sectors concerned, in particular human health, animal health and the environment.

To advance this strategy on the African continent, a regional conference was organized by the WHO in November 2012 in Libreville. The countries represented at this meeting as well as the regional political organizations, committed to putting in place mechanisms and procedures to accelerate the operationalization of the ‘One Health’ approach. In line with these commitments, the West African Health Organization (WAHO) and the WHO Regional Office for Africa jointly organized a technical and ministerial meeting on the One Health approach in Dakar in November 2016 to strengthen the fight against zoonoses and major public health events.

The proposals and recommendations resulting from these meetings were the subject of a draft resolution which was adopted by the ECOWAS Heads of State Conference. The draft resolution aimed at the adoption of national and regional strategies for the institutionalization of the One Health approach in accordance with the International Health Regulations (IHR), the PVS (Performance of Veterinary Services)  and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and other related frameworks and to obtain strong political commitment from the highest authorities for the implementation of the One Health approach in their respective countries.

On this basis, a meeting was held in Abuja to discuss, amend and adopt the political coordination platform of the ECOWAS regional framework, One Health. This regional platform, built around the ECOWAS Commission, includes: (i) a level of political coordination by the Assemblies of Ministers of the ECOWAS countries of the sectors concerned, (ii) a level of strategic coordination and technical analysis by the Technical Advisory Council of the Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control of ECOWAS and (iii) an operational level for the management of epidemics and public health emergencies provided by the Regional Centre for Surveillance and Control of Diseases of ECOWAS and the Regional Animal Health Centre.

The aim is to ensure the leadership of the implementation and the sustainability of the regional framework of the ‘Single Health’ approach. This crucible of exchange and sharing of experiences between countries also aims to define policy orientations, validate the strategies and interventions of the regional advisory committee and review reports on the implementation of country and regional activities on the implementation of the One Health approach. It constitutes an opportunity for strategic advocacy in order to mobilize endogenous resources sine qua non condition for a perpetuation of the acquired.

At the end of the Abuja meeting, the various sectoral ministers agreed on the necessity and relevance of this initiative, which will feed into the reflection on regional strategies for preparing and responding to major public health events. They agreed on the following steps: (i) The development and implementation of an integrated multi-sectoral strategic plan for public health emergencies involving regional actors from all relevant sectors and disciplines; (Ii) The joint response by the Regional Rapid Response Mechanism (real context or simulation exercises); (Iii) Regular risk assessment and prioritization of diseases at regional and national levels; (Iv) Strengthening systems for monitoring and information sharing; and (v) Establishing mechanisms for regional collaboration ‘Single Health’ for surveillance and early detection of infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance and their risk factors at the level of each ECOWAS country, taking into account frameworks and existing tools.

Technical and financial partners like the World Bank and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are also committed to supporting the initiatives selected in the context of the operationalization of the One Health approach. Progress on the selected actions agreed to be monitored at an annual meeting with the effective participation of the various ministers in charge of the sectors involved.

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