Health stakeholders in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-region are meeting in Monrovia to take stock of the status of implementation of the recommendations and lessons learned from the recent and unprecedented outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
The EVD outbreak, which started in March 2014 in Liberia, recorded nearly 5,000 deaths in Liberia and more than 11,000 in the sub-region and beyond. But Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the worst hit and recorded the highest number of deaths.
Formally opening the three-day post-Ebola outbreak regional meeting yesterday at a resort in Monrovia, Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn, said they would review 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 the 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 State and Governments of ECOWAS,” Minister Dahn said.
She told participants meeting under the auspices of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), that the recent Ebola virus disease (EVD) experience in the region continuously reminds and challenges them that everyone is at risk to any disease outbreak.
“We should be adequately prepared. Disease threat in any of the ECOWAS states is a threat to all of us including the international community,” Dr. Dahn added.
Against this background, ECOWAS continues to engage with all the three worst EVD affected countries in their recovery journeys towards rebuilding resilient health systems.
Dr. Dahn praised the efforts of the Authority of Heads of State 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,” said Dr. Dahn.
She acknowledged that Liberia is still recovering from the economic shocks that accompanied the EVD outbreak, and that it had immensely affected the domestic resource mobilization efforts.
Minister Dahn further stated that it is a tedious journey to get the economy back to its pre-Ebola status.
The 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 disclosed.
She expressed the hope that strong partnership will continue to play a meaningful role in filling the critical gaps.
Dr. Dahn recognized that though there are ongoing works in ECOWAS to improve prevention, detection and response, owing to some weaknesses on the part of the regional body, she said she is, however, hopeful that through strong national commitment, collaboration and partnership all the necessary capacities will be established.
The Director General of WAHO, Dr. Xavier Crispin, said their gathering was very important, because they were meeting on the request of leaders in the region, especially from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, who is the Regional Coordinator for the Fight Against Epidemics in the region.
“The main objective of the meeting is to access where we are in terms of implementing the key decisions reached by the Heads of State and Governments. One of the key decisions made during the last three years was putting in place an ECOWAS Regional Center for Disease Control,” Dr. Crispin said.
He stated that over the next three days, they will exchange reports 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 said stakeholders will also look at where they are in term of setting up efficient laboratories, training of technicians, researchers and epidemiology surveillance in health information systems.
Dr. Crispin stressed that among their main objectives is the “one health approach,” which was 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 State 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 terms of involving the other sectors and not only the human health sector.”
The WAHO DG also stated that critical to their deliberations will be to look at the contribution toward the ‘solidarity fund,’ which was agreed upon by Heads of State of the region.
The contributions towards this solidarity fund will be made by member states so that when there is any health emergency in any country, money can be taken from the fund to help that country.
He reminisced that based on contributions from some member states, WAHO through ECOWAS was able to send over a hundred medical personnel to the three worst affected countries during the Ebola crisis.
Earlier, Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Health for Disease Surveillance and Epidemic Control, Tolbert G. Nyensuah, stated that since the EVD transmission was declared over and was no longer posing public health emergency of international concern, they have been struggling with rebuilding their healthcare systems, especially countries that were most affected by the EVD.
Minister Nyensuah said the disease affected cross-border trades and brought about travel restrictions and economic shutdown.
He stated, however, that since the outbreak was declared over, they have put in place mechanisms for building a resilient healthcare system in Liberia.
According to him, one of the best lessons 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.
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 at the extent to which we have been able to implement those recommendations,” he said.
He reminded the audience that the 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.