14 July 2015
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a central national emergency operations centre to be established that will be on stand-by to deal with future disease outbreaks and related emergencies.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, made the call when addressing a meeting of about 200 high-level experts from governments, development agencies, civil society and international organisations at the Building Health Security Beyond Ebola conference at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town yesterday.
The meeting comes a few months after the Ebola outbreak claimed thousands of lives in West Africa and posed a health risk to countries around the world.
Moeti said it was important to stop outbreaks before they became catastrophic. The Ebola outbreak showed the need for countries to be prepared and have the capacity to rapidly respond to outbreaks and emergencies to maintain national and global health security.
“Transborder, transnational and intercontinental co-operation remains a high priority for WHO considering the frequency and magnitude of health crises before us. To prepare and respond to these crises, we have no margin for error and timing is essential,” she said.
Ability to deal with outbreaks
As a minimum requirement, the WHO wanted to ensure that all countries on the continent had several capacities in place to deal with future outbreaks. These would include:
- A surveillance system that would cover the country from community to national level and be adapted to relevant conditions and that would use well-trained staff and proven information management systems;
- A central national emergency operation centre with capabilities and resources to function as a central hub for national surveillance at all times, and as the central operational hub to be activated during health emergencies;
- Sustainable community engagement and risk communication strategies and resourced plans; and,
- Critical laboratory diagnostic capacities with associated quality assessment processes.
The director-general in the South African Department of Health, Malebona Matsoso, said the aim of the meeting was to establish a partnership between African countries and the rest of the world in order to deal with health risk emergencies in the future.
“The aim of this meeting is to establish a common framework for common action that takes into account the roles of different stakeholders. It is also going to help us understand what were those lessons that we learned from the Ebola experience and what we could take forward.”
She said that a couple of years ago, the WHO passed a resolution and came up with a global strategy and plan of action on public health innovation and intellectual property rights.
“The strategy has eight elements and the first three elements deal with investment in research and development as well as promoting research and development, and building innovative capacities in developing countries.
“The other elements deal with access. The Ebola experience shows that there has been a market failure particularly for diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. There is no effort to make investment in research and development and we have seen this with Ebola.”
Matsoso said the proposals covered in the resolution pointed to a need for countries to build mechanisms for financing incentive schemes that could reward innovation that would help to develop products that would deal with specific diseases that affected poor countries.
“We can use the Ebola example to address these market failures.”