WHO Regional Committee meeting talks about tackling public health emergencies

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The need for countries to mobilize resources to combat public health emergencies was heavily underlined at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa that is being held at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The Committee is also considering a USD 106.8 million strategy to tackle the public health emergencies that threaten everyone in Africa and disrupts the regional economy.

The meeting was attended by Health Ministers from 47 countries that will be deciding on a number of policy commitments in the Regional Strategy for Health Security and Emergencies 2016–2020.

Among the strategies significant commitment is in direct response to the many outbreaks seen across the continent, is that by 2018, at least 80 percent of the 47 countries will have tested and funded all-hazards preparedness plans, conducted outbreak and disaster risk analyses and mapping, and implemented policies and guidelines to support International Health Regulations (IHR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) implementation.

In our globalized world, diseases know no boundaries. We need stronger collaboration to protect national, regional and global health security

“In our globalized world, diseases know no boundaries. We need stronger collaboration to protect national, regional and global health security. The implementation of the regional strategy for health security and emergencies would strengthen the capacity of countries in the region to prepare for, prevent, detect, respond to and quickly recover from emergencies in a predictable, dependable and accountable way,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Studies show that more than 100 public health emergencies occur each year in Africa. Out of those, infectious diseases account for 80 percent, disasters for 18 percent, chemical poisoning and acute severe malnutrition account for only 2 percent.

Ethiopia’s President Dr Mulatu Teshome, in his official opening speech underlined the need to work collectively and learn from previous emergencies that the continent had faced with regards to diseases such as Ebola. While the recent Ebola outbreak has gotten extensive attention, it was suggested that    governments need dedicated resources to contain many other diseases, with looming threats on the horizon. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), for example, threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections.

Further underlining the need for coordinated response as well as the need for continuous health intervention,  it was stated that Nigeria, a country that recently discovered a new case of polio,  is an example of how there could be a setback.

“In July of this year, Nigeria celebrated two years without a single case of wild polio virus. On the hills of this success came reports of two children parallelized by polio in Nigeria difficult area. This set back in no way undermines the tremendous strides done by the government of Nigeria in getting that to zero cases,” stated Dr Margaret Chan is the Director-General of WHO. She further state that weak health systems and inadequate human and financial resources remain huge barriers in Africa, but the continent is catching up with the rest of the world.

Speaking on the global development goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Dr Chan said that SDGs aimed to tackle poverty, not superficially but fundamentally by addressing its root causes. She also said the SDG agenda provides a foundation for more effective aid for Africa, a region that has suffered disproportionately from ineffective aid.

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