Kampala, 2nd May 2019: - Uganda’s Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng has lauded international partners for supporting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) battle the current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak and the neighbouring countries in their preparedness and readiness phase.
“The outbreak in DRC affects everyone and while we have no confirmed cases in the neighbouring countries, preparation is paramount. I thank the partners for their support in both response and preparedness modes during this EVD outbreak,” she said.
Dr Aceng was closing the two-day International Partners meeting convened by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) that sought to strengthen partnerships for EVD preparedness and response.
While appreciating the various interventions that have been implemented to control the outbreak in DRC and prevent spread to other countries, Dr Aceng singled out vaccination of health workers, cross border collaboration and awareness creation as interventions that have helped Uganda and other countries stay EVD-free up to now.
“Vaccination has been a major breakthrough in the management of Ebola. Many lives have been saved and spread averted because of vaccination of frontline health workers and people in affected communities” she observed.
Dr Aceng reported the excellent collaboration between health workers in Uganda and DRC that has enabled the identification and follow-up of several people suspected to be EVD contacts. “The colleagues in DRC have alerted us several times about suspected contacts who we have followed and handled appropriately,” she said.
Awareness creation has also contributed tremendously to prevent the spread of EVD within DRC and to other countries. “Awareness creation should continue in all communities so that out people remain alert,” said Dr Aceng.
However, Dr Aceng also proposed two issues which she strongly urged international partners to always adhere to in order to ensure effective and sustainable response not only to EVD but also other disease outbreaks in Africa. “First always ensure transparency and accountability in all actions and in what you do on the ground. Share what you are doing based on the funds given because it not only helps to avoid duplication of work but also builds donor and community confidence,” she said adding that this will contribute to building strong and resilient health systems in Africa.
“Secondly, I urge you to always ensure country leadership and ownership in your work. Let country authorities be in charge of and lead preparedness and response activities because they know the countries better than you. Please don’t impose, instead, work with us and support us within the national government structures” she said.
Earlier, delegates at the meeting made recommendations that will inform the preparation of a roadmap on EVD preparedness and response in the region. This included support to build resilient and reliable health systems in countries that can respond to EVD and other disease outbreaks promptly.
They also called for increased investment in community engagement through existing community structures. This, they observed, is vital because disease outbreaks primarily occur and affect communities, they are the first points of contact and know the norms and practices that usually drive the spread of infections. Besides, community resistance, hostility and stigma such as those witnessed in a few instances in DRC can be effectively tackled through community engagement.
The delegates also looked at disease surveillance in the region and recommended that this be strengthened within the existing health system and community-based structures. They emphasized the importance of resource mobilization which they agreed should be done transparently focusing on priorities and needs identified by countries in their preparedness and response plans.
The delegates agreed that cross-border collaboration is critical in disease outbreaks especially because of the inter-linkages and social-economic activities that bring people together. Such consideration, activities and structures should be used to contribute to disease outbreak efforts such as surveillance. The delegates particularly noted the critical role of regional economic bodies such as the East Africa Community that can be used to harness political and financial contribution to disease outbreaks right from the highest offices in countries and also facilitate cross-border collaboration.
“We have held meetings with DRC, visited their facilities and shared experiences on how to better manage this outbreak. Therefore, cross border collaboration is an important measure during any disease outbreak,” said the WHO Representative in Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam while emphasising the need for cross-border collaboration at the closing ceremony.
Other issues discussed at the two-day meeting included infrastructure and human resources development, infection prevention and control.
As the meeting closed, the mood and determination to tackle disease outbreaks were yet again succinctly captured by Dr Jane Ruth Aceng enlisting ovation from delegates: “Africans can control outbreaks. Nothing is impossible in Africa. Let us rise up a critically address the current Ebola outbreak in DRC.”
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