ECOWAS health, environment ministers meet in Abuja to adopt approach to emergencies

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West African Ministers of Health and Environment will on Saturday converge in Abuja to fashion out a formula for combating infectious diseases such as Ebola and Lassa fever that have lately ravaged the sub-region.

The meeting on “One Health” approach, holding under the umbrella of ECOWAS Ministers, is being promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a multi-sectoral coordination of human, animals and environmental health in combating epidemic diseases.

Ahead of the meeting, experts in the human, animal and environmental health sectors from the 15 ECOWAS countries have being meeting in the Nigerian capital under the aegis of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) Health Experts’ Committee to discuss health issues relating to each member state and the region as a whole.

They were expected to discuss the health challenges faced by each of the member states and the success and failure of how they have been combating the outbreak of diseases.

The expert meeting will come up with proposals for the Ministers to adopt as “One Health” approach for West Africa.
Specifically, the technical meeting will produce a proposal for terms of reference for the development of an integrated multi-sectoral strategic plan for public health emergencies and also recommend a road map for the main interventions to carry out in 2017-2018.

The Director General WAHO, Xavier Crespin, in a chat with journalists on Thursday at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja, said the objective of the meeting is mainly to know the problems and to let health partners know how they can assist each country within the region.

“This meeting is an important one for us as each year we have organised a partner forum so that we can know what we are going through in the region. We have a health strategic plan for 2016-2020, and it is important for us that our partners come here to listen and to know what are the current problems we have in the region firsthand.”

He said the partners will also have the opportunity to listen to what each country is going through and the assistance and support needed .

“So the aim of this meeting is to know each other, our health priority, and and to see how best we can improve our relationship in the of assistance and financial support to our member states,” he said.

Mr. Crespin disclosed that the region has been able to mobilize over $150 million in the last two years to support various health programmes.

He explained that the projects have increased from five major focus areas to 19, with disease control and reduction in maternal and child death by improving health facilities as the hub of the projects.

“The programme mainly is to have a better control of diseases in our country, especially communicable diseases, how we can fight the epidemic, for example, the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Liberia.

“It has made it obvious that our countries are not strong enough to combat some of these diseases so it is important for us as a region to have partners who can help each country to strengthen our health system and laboratories, most importantly, how we can mobilize from one country to another country to support.

“Nutrition is also another major aspect on our agenda, how we can better improve the nutrition of women and children, and the supplements such as vitamin A, Iron and promote vitamin A rich food in our country.

“The demography, population and health of our population are growing fast so it it good to have a good mother and child health promotion programme in our countries for several projects. What WAHO is trying to do is improving the health of our people and it is a cycling process. Our main objective under the disease project is to have more resources for our countries so that we can have a reduction in maternal and child death,” he added.

Mr. Crespin said there is an urgent need to formalise the implementation of the “One Health” approach as highlighted by the 2014-2016 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic which led to loss of over 11,000 lives.

Kofi Busia, Director, Public Health Care West Africa, explained that the WAHO group, as a specialized health institution of ECOWAS, meets every year to bring Health ministers in the region together to give a report on the activities each undertook in the previous year.

This year’s meeting is the 18th in the series.
Mr. Busia said one of the concrete things achieved at the previous meeting was the establishment of a regional centre for disease and control in Abuja to coordinate the outbreak of diseases and serve as a reference centre and link all the national coordinating units.

“Because when Ebola broke out, one of the things that became quite clear was that countries in the region are not prepared and Nigeria is an example. But we were able to bring Ebola to an end rapidly. This is a remarkable achievement and this is an example of how if you are prepared you can deal with some of these things,”, he stated.

He said the forum was also able to organise a best practices forum forum that enables the countries to come together to discuss and showcase best practices that they adopted.

“The maternal child death rate in the region is also the highest in sub-Saharan African and something also needs to be done about that, added Mr. Busia.

WAHO was established in 1987 when the Heads of State and Government of the 15 ECOWAS countries adopted the protocol creating the organization.

The agency has, through strategic programmes, undertaken measures to combat Malaria, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant mortality; prevention of blindness actions for easy access to medicines and vaccines, epidemiological surveillance as well as training and health information management in the sub-region.


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