A three-day (Dec. 12-14) cross-border meeting on epidemic-prone diseases, including malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) opened in Monrovia at a resort yesterday with seven West African countries participating.
The participating countries are host, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Niger.
At the official opening yesterday, Dr. Catherine Cooper, Assistant Minister for Curative Services at the Ministry of Health, welcomed the delegates and said the Liberian government is excited about the deliberations and would expect fruitful discussions and their recommendations to help develop resilient health support in the various countries.
Dr. Cooper, deputizing for Deputy Public Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, spoke on capacity building for health care professionals as well as the concerted efforts for a regional support system that would strengthen epidemiological surveillance and adequate response to epidemics that affect the sub-region.
Mr. Clement Peter, WHO’s Disease Prevention and Control adviser, on behalf of WHO Representative Dr. Alex Gasasira, said improving cross-border management of public health emergencies, including malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), is important for countries in the sub-region to embark on assessing their IHR (international health regulation) core capacities with focus on ‘one health approach.’
He said the meeting provides a unique opportunity to improve cross-border collaboration beyond the landscape and lens of epidemic prone diseases to include malaria and NTDs in a holistic and integrated manner.
Mr. Peter recalled the 9th MRU Conference on NTDs, held in Monrovia (Oct. 19-21) that reviewed progress made on NTD control, challenges and solutions to mitigate potential gaps.
He said 18 recommendations were endorsed and pertinent among them were integration of NTDs to the national surveillance system and cross-border eradication of NTDs. “This further reinforces the importance of this meeting as diseases have no boundaries; and importantly, epidemics or other diseases cannot be managed in silos if we have to control or eradicate them,” he said.
He stated that quite often, disease outbreaks in the sub-region are linked to cross-border importation or exportation, an indication that “we should proactively engage with communities along the borders.”
“Hence, any effort to strengthen integrated disease surveillance and response especially Community Event Based Surveillance (CEBS), control of communicable and neglected tropical diseases will require active community engagement through innovative initiatives to ensure sustainability,” he said.
Dr. Chokki Felicite, West African Health Organization Professional in charge of epidemic and emergencies, said the Ebola virus disease outbreak in the sub-region that caused more than 11,000 deaths has revealed the importance of strengthening the disease surveillance systems, inter-sectoral collaboration and inter-agency cooperation.
“This will enable early detection of outbreaks of diseases to provide a rapid and effective response,” she said, adding that West African countries should take ownership of the conclusion that would emerge from the three-day meeting and contribute to their implementation.
“With this in mind I can assure you that WAHO, in line with its mandate to contribute to regional health integration, will work for the development of cross-border activities and make the one-health approach one of the strategies to contribute to finding adequate responses to health problems in ECOWAS,” Dr. Felicite added.
She commended the WHO, the World Bank, USAID and the West African Monetary Union for their support of the meeting.
Mr. Kabla Amihere, Chief of Mission of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said the meeting is evidence that Liberia and other countries in the sub-region are still recovering from the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease and other priority diseases that threaten their public health systems.
He made reference to the 14 years of civil unrest and its results of displacement of thousands who are vulnerable to diseases, along with Liberia’s shattered infrastructure. He explained that IOM is in partnership with the Ministry of Health to rebuild the lives of many in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Grand Bassa counties who were affected by the war.
He expressed interest in the ‘One Health Approach’ and assured the meeting of his organization’s support. The three-day meeting is deliberating on integrated disease surveillance and response in the ‘One Health Approach,’ animal health and surveillance, among others.