Cross border disease outbreak simulation exercise reinforces preparedness in East Africa

Namanga One Stop Border Post, 11 June 2019 – Every day the Namanga border post is a hive of activity as one of the busiest and most important border crossings between Kenya and Tanzania. But for four days this week, it is also the site of a massive and complex cross-border field simulation exercise, which started on 11 June and aims to review the capacities of the two countries to prepare and respond to disease outbreaks.

Convened by the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, the exercise involves 150 experts from the Secretariat, Tanzania and Kenya. Representatives from the East African Community partner states - Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda – are also participating as observers.

WHO is the lead technical agency requested by the Secretariat to develop the exercise design and to coordinate its implementation, with financial support from the German Government.

Speaking at the event, leaders and representatives from Kenya, Tanzania, the EAC and partners underscored the significance of the simulation exercise as an opportunity to strengthen and learn from cross-border collaboration in emergency response and preparedness.

“Preparedness is the ability to effectively anticipate, respond to, and recover from the negative impacts of a wide range of public health threats,“ said Dr Tigest Ketsela Mengestu, WHO Country Representative for Tanzania. “The simulation exercise will help us identify weaknesses and areas for further improvements in our response system and help us identify the strengths that need to be sustained.”

The Head of the Kenyan delegation and the Cabinet Secretary for the East African Community and Regional Development, The Honorable Adan Mohammed hailed the efforts made by the EAC secretariat, the two countries, WHO and other partners adding: “this is a learning opportunity for us to develop interventions that will address any gaps identified in the simulation exercise.”

The exercise will test various real-life settings across the border to determine the level of preparedness and response and assess operational capabilities at regional and national levels, strengths and weaknesses in coordination and collaboration mechanisms, emergency response deployment, logistics and administrative processes as well as risk and crisis communication (RCC) and emergency management and leadership.

“I am quite pleased that part of this exercise will also test the country capacity to effectively engage communities during public health events,” The Honorable Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania’s Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children said.

Mwalimu praised the active participation of community members who play a key role in disease detection and response.

EAC Deputy Secretary General Christophe Bazivamo said the effort by the EAC countries and partners was timely given the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which shares a border with five of the EAC member countries

“We need to continually test our systems and ensure strengthened capacity,” he said.

WHO is using a One Health approach to coordinate the different agencies needed for the exercise. The success of the simulation will be measured by the effectiveness of early warning and detection practices at points of entry on the Namanga border. Command and control systems and information sharing will also be evaluated. The outcomes of this exercise will help Kenya and Tanzania work together with the EAC and partners to build and maintain resilient national health systems, which can respond effectively to health emergencies.

While the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has captured world attention, the threat of future epidemics and public health emergencies remains acute in the African region. WHO reports that all 47 countries in the region are at risk of health security threats and more than 150 acute public health events strike the region annually.

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