Pandemics, others: Africa agree to form one network

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From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

Concerned that West African countries are pruned to battling disease outbreaks like cerebrospinal meningitis, Lassa, fever, cholera, and all other public health events, efforts are being made to create a network that would ensure that the next pandemic, the continent would be met better prepared. 

Head of Disease Control and Prevention Division, Africa CDC, Dr Mohammed Abdulazi, made this disclosure at the opening of a three-day workshop for the launch of the Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Networks implementation for the West African Region.

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The workshop, is co-hosted by the African Union/Africa CDC and the West African Health Organization (WAHO), in Abuja.

He said that the goal of the Africa CDC was to  ‘safeguard Africa’s health’.

He added that to achieve this goal on a population level requires three things: clinical acumen to diagnose disease, coordinated laboratory networks to diagnose disease, and an appropriate response to control disease on the region.

He recalled that it was to address the critical need for comprehensive and quality laboratory and surveillance systems and networks within the continent, that Africa CDC established a Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET) for all the African Regions. RISLNET is a network of networks that harness existing public health assets in each of the five African Union regions to strengthen national and regional laboratory and Surveillance systems, improving quality standards and promoting networks for integration whilst leveraging the existing assets within the various sub-regions.

Abdulazi, while thanking member countries for coming to the workshop said, “We need to discuss among ourselves, how do we create a network that would work in a collaborative way to ensure that the next pandemic, will meet us better prepared.

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“In West Africa, we’ve been battling with outbreaks of Lassa fever in different countries of the West African region. And not just Lassa fever, different outbreaks are ongoing. So what that means is, for us to be prepared for the next pandemic, we should use the opportunity that comes with responding to outbreaks that are already with us. Cerebrospinal meningitis outbreak, Lassa, fever, cholera, and all other public health events, that constitute a challenge to us, to use it to create a network of people working in this aspects of public health.”

Director of Surveillance and Epidemiology, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Mrs. Elsie Ilori, who represented the ministry of health, said RISLNET is long overdue and is essential as it will help the region better communicate and have networking of pre-surveillance activities in laboratories in preparedness for future outbreaks.

She said: “This RISLNET  which is an integrated surveillance laboratory network, is long overdue for this region, because we’ve been having a lot of disease outbreaks that been going over to other countries.

“I’m sure sometimes there are some countries that have accused Nigeria, of exporting  over Lassa fever to their countries or cholera and we’ve also had situations where the countries have also exported their own disease  outbreak to our country.

“So disease do not know borders, they will not need research  to go into your country, it  only needs the human being to get into your country and spread it. So this network is very essential for us where, we’ll be able to communicate and have that networking of pre-surveillance activities in our laboratories. “So in Nigeria it’s  something that we have been looking forward to, is something that we have also tried to work on. I know one other weak area is linking the laboratory data with surveillance. That’s one big issue. And so I think that’s one of the things that we are also going to be looking at in this network. So I’m happy that this is happening.“

While commending the  leadership of the regions and partners, the US CDC Nigeria Country Director, Dr Mary Boyd, said that the US CDC would continue to support the efforts of the region to ensure that disease response system is functional, that operations can be properly utilised in the detection and control of diseases.

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She  said that the US CDC hopes that there would also sustainability of those efforts.

“I’m happy that the RISLNET is going to be  launched in efforts to address the critical need for comprehensive and quality laboratory and surveillance systems and networks within the region which is the foundation,” she said.

She also disclosed that the US CDC was supporting the West Africa regional Collaborating Center by establishing a regional information hub to assist the region for a better coordination and sharing of Data and information.

“There is  no point doing one thing here and not being able to use it across the region,” she said.

The Executive Director of Global Health Systems Solutions (GHSS), Prof. Patrick Njukeng, who is one of the partners of the network, explained the private sector have a lot to offer the region in terms of preparedness detection, and for the region to have a very strong and sound system.

He said: “I think public and private sector needs to really come together to be able to foster the agenda of the Africa, CDC, an African Union for health for Africans by Africans. The private sector, is endowed with tremendous potential – financial, political, technical,  name it, and public private partnership is the way to go in this kind of situation, where we are determined to strengthen our health system across Africa, by us, and for us, for our own interests, and for the interests of everybody.”

Speaking on collaboration with African CDC and WAHO on RISLNET since 2017,  Njukeng said:  “The journey of collaboration so far has been so interesting. There has been wonderful lessons learned and wonderful interactions. I will say that the journey has been virtually smooth because we have enjoyed a wonderful interaction with Africa CDC. We have achieved a lot for Central Africa region, thanks to the collaboration with Africa, CDC, both in guidance, and in working together with us to implement the activity. Our Project Officer, Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Aziz has been a wonderful motivator and a wonderful lead for us to achieve what we have achieved and we really are determined to do same for Western Africa RISLNET.”

The CEO   PASTEUR INSTITUTE Dakar, Dr Amadou Alpha SALL, speaking on the experiences gathered as one of the implementing partner, he said training has been done in 25 countries on the continent, including 15 in West Africa.

He said PASTEUR INSTITUTE Dakar, as been an implementing partner for RISLNET, has experience at both the regional level and continental level.

He said: “we have been working now for several years with Africa CDC as part of the surveillance partner. And we’ve been working as reference laboratory for West Africa Health Organization (WAHO). And we have a quite large experience in training I. 25 countries on the continent, including 15 in West Africa, and also interacting with them on the surveillance system, either for data management, laboratory support, or actually outbreak investigation and response following surveillance detections.

“For that reason, I mean, we have been chosen by Africa, CDC and GHSS, to support this initiative, because of our experience working with all these different countries.

“So PASTEUR INSTITUTE Dakar is the Center for several regional reference centers and all the experience and the system that has been developed in Senegal of Sentinel syndromic surveillance, that is in a capacity to detect epidemic within a week. And responding on to that is going to be actually leverage as part of this system to support other countries and share experiences.”

Dr Abderhamane Sow of WAHO, explained that regional leaders had in 2015, agreed to tackle the lack of capacity to respond to health challenges by putting up a center for managing diseases in africa.

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