Tolbert Nyenswah, Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), yesterday addressed the opening session of an international conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, sharing experiences on Strengthening National Public Health Institutes in Africa. The three-day conference runs from February 26-28, a dispatch has said.
According to a dispatch from Addis Ababa, the conference, which is being held under the theme, “Unity of Purpose,” is among others aimed at strengthening the link between Africa’s National Public Health Institutes and the Africa Center for Disease Control (CDC) through the Regional Collaborating Centers; review and adopt a continental Africa CDC framework and legislative mandates to establish and strengthen national public health institutes; review and refine the proposed Africa CDC National Public Health Institute Developmental Scorecard; and identify priorities/gaps and develop action plans to address urgent gaps.
Director Nyenswah recalled that a weak public health system created an Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) crisis that destroyed the Liberian economy.
He said the economic and fiscal impact has outlasted the epidemiological impact, which led to severe shocks to investment, production and consumption throughout the region, coupled with commodity price decline.
Nyenswah said amid the fast-tracking of the legislative processes for the creation of an Independent National Public Health Institute, the vision set upon the organization is to create a center of excellence for better health outcomes for Liberians through a strong health system and a mission to prevent and control public health threats by promoting healthy outcomes and serving as a source of knowledge and expertise.
Nyenswah said with the creation of the NPHIL, the country is poised to benefit from improved health innovation and technology; strong PH Laboratory System- IDSR- detection; independent research capacity; regional benefits; academic and research opportunities for African scientists; laboratory and diagnostic capacity in close proximity; affiliation with the African CDC; decrease dependence of Liberia on international aid; advance global study of tropical disease; and contribute to novel devices and methods.
He said the National Public Health Institute shall pursue alignment with strategic partners and universities and donors (WHO, World Bank, CDC, NIH, DOD etc.), thus culminating into the establishment of the NPHIL Foundation – modeled after CDC Foundation – which will affiliate with the University of Liberia.
In light of Liberia’s experiences, particularly in response to early impact, the NPHIL in 2017, responded to 39 outbreaks of reportable diseases (Measles, Lassa Fever, Scabies, Meningitis, Monkey Pox, etc) with response time being within 24-48 hours, while laboratory turn-around time cut from 90 days ‘pre-ebola’ to less than 24-48 hours for 11 out of 17 reportable diseases in Liberia.
Nyenswah told the conference that periodic testing of drinking water sources has averted cholera outbreaks in the country; timeliness and completeness of IDSR reporting from over 700 HFs in 93 HDs in above 98 percent; reduced stress of outbreaks on Ministry of Health; and measles xampaign for over 600,000 children – evidence of frequent outbreaks from NPHIL; and distribution of over two million LLINs.
He called on the African Union (AU) or African Union Communion (AUC) to pass a resolution to legalize the framework of NPHIs in Africa. He then challenged African countries to within the next five years strive to establish a NPHI under the leadership of Africa CDC and regional coordinating bodies in the five regions.
Nyenswah then assured that Liberia is willing to share its experience through a case study for low income settings.
He noted that partnership remains key to the work of NPHIs in concert with (GOL, WHO, USCDC, IANPHI, AFRICA CDC, Regional CDC, USG Agencies etc.).