Call to Ecowas bloc to strengthen health systems

Thursday June 7 2018

A health worker wearing protective gear at a

A health worker wearing protective gear at a facility treating Ebola cases in West Africa. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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West African countries have been challenged to strengthen their health systems to counter recurrence of epidemics like Ebola.

The West African Health Organisation (WAHO) Director-General, Prof Stanley Okolo, said the recent outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should serve as a wakeup call, for countries to up their surveillance, preparedness and response capacities.

Prof Okolo, who was addressing a Health ministers forum in the Gambian capital Banjul on Tuesday, pointed out that prevention was always the best strategy in the fight against diseases.

WAHO is mandated with implementing the health agenda of the 15-member Economic Community of West African states (Ecowas).

Most fatal

West Africa was the scene of the world's most fatal Ebola epidemic that erupted between 2014 and 2016, claiming nearly 12,000 lives in mainly Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Nearly 30,000 people were affected by the virus.

Health ministers from the Ecowas and other countries in the region were in Banjul to discuss, among others, a regional laboratory strategic plan, a mental health plan, pharmaceutical regulations and the growing phenomenon of obstetric fistula.

The deliberations are part of the 19th Ordinary Assembly of the Ecowas Health Ministers.
The delegates at the five-day meeting were also discussing health financing, the lack of which was said to be hindering the region's ability to meet its obligations in ensuring services for it's over 300 million population.

West Africa was also currently battling Lassa Fever, another deadly viral disease in the same family as Ebola.

Disease surveillance

Elsewhere on the continent, health authorities have been stretched by outbreak of diseases such as the Rift Valley Fever, Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever, all of which, noted Prof. Okolo, brought to the fore the urgent need for health strengthening.

WAHO, according to officials, had alerted its member countries, to activate an international disease surveillance protocol to prevent the DR Congo Ebola epidemic from spreading to the region. Those include the exchange of information in the form of weekly bulletin.

"The whole thing is to be on our guard. We have more work to do. No more business as usual," said Prof Okolo.

"The most important thing to us is to start looking at how we can focus on impacting the health of the population in the Ecowas region," he added.

The resolutions of the Banjul talks are expected to be presented to technical experts for review, and onward submission to the Health ministers for adoption.