Nations in West Africa unite to boost public health.
About three years after it got rid of the Ebola virus which has undergone critical genetic mutation that allows it to better target human cells, countries in West Africa have resolved to work together to prevent and respond early to current and future public health threats across West Africa. This was the resolution reached at the end of the West African Regional Conference on One Health that was held in Dakar, Senegal.
HealthNewsNG gathered that the conference that was hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, in collaboration with other regional and international partners – is the strongest political commitment to One Health in West Africa to date.
38 ministers from 16 countries in West Africa endorsed a communiqué, pledging their commitment to implement the One Health approach both within and across countries. Relevant agencies described it as a critical step forward toward implementing the WHO’s Regional Strategy on Health Security and Emergencies 2016-2020, which was agreed upon at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August.
The communiqué signed by ministers will help bolster the regional coordination and strong systems that are needed to help prevent and stop disease outbreaks. The agreement also announced the creation of framework that will help countries work together across sectors and borders to ensure effective integration of human, animal and environmental health efforts. Ultimately, this will provide the basis for countries in West Africa to conduct joint preparedness and response planning at the country and sub-regional levels, which will help manage outbreaks before they become national and international crises.
Specifically, Member States party to the agreement have pledged to carry out national risk assessments and set up alert mechanisms for both common and emerging disease outbreaks within their territories. Governments will be tasked with integrating laboratories for human and animal samples to improve the timely diagnosis of diseases and track the spread of drug-resistant pathogens at the national level—a crucial step in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Together, these commitments will generate renewed momentum for West African countries to prioritise health security and pandemic preparedness. Ultimately, this will help drive progress towards existing commitments and initiatives, such as WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR), a legal tool that helps to ensure countries are better equipped to prevent, report and respond to public health risks that could cross borders and threaten people worldwide.
Commenting on the development, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, said disease outbreaks and public health crises – many of which began in animals – have taken lives and livelihoods, severely impacted our industries and economies, and taken a serious toll on West African countries’ already-stretched public health workforces.
“With so much at stake, the world simply cannot afford to take a crisis-by-crisis approach to health security. Strong systems and coordinated efforts are needed – both within and between countries – to detect, report and control the spread of diseases that affect animals and humans,” Moeti said.
The conference which featured a coalition of the region’s ministers of health, agriculture and wildlife, noted that West Africa is currently tackling outbreaks of several zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza in poultry in Cameroon and Nigeria and Rift Valley fever in Niger, as well as vector-borne public health threats, such as the recent emergence of the Zika virus strain from Brazil in Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
“These diseases impact not only health, but also food security and economic security. For example, the Ebola outbreak cost Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone nearly US$600 million in lost gross domestic product, and avian influenza has cost the region tens of billions of dollars since 2013,” WHO said in a statement made available to HealthNewsNG.
As the world marks the World Antibiotics Week this week, the global health body also noted that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals and crops is resulting in the emergence of antibiotic-resistant disease pathogens – which is rendering common infectious diseases and bacterial infections more difficult and expensive to treat. But by incorporating human, animal and environmental health, medicines are made to be effective by more carefully and diligently managing their use.