Following its bid to control the outbreak of disease, African health ministers have adopted a 10-year regional strategy to strengthen integrated disease surveillance and response in the continent. The plan, according to World Health Organization (WHO), aimed at curtailing the devastating impact of outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola, Lassa fever, among others. The ministers who adopted the Regional Strategy for Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response 2020–2030 at the 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo, said that said the strategy is necessary for disease control because of the increasing reports of acute public health events across countries.
The Regional Committee is the governing mechanism and consists of the health ministers of the 47 member states of the WHO African Region. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director said that it has become imperative for African countries to be able to respond to health emergencies because acute public health events are being reported every four days on the continent. “Africa has more outbreaks and other health emergencies than any other region of the world, and many of them could be prevented or controlled through proven public health interventions. “It is crucial for all countries to have an effective surveillance system, which can track common diseases and set off alarms for the timely containment of disease epidemics or for early detection and investigation of any abnormal clustering of cases or deaths of a new event.
The new strategy builds on more than 20 years of working with a comprehensive, evidence-based integrated surveillance system that ensures countries stay a step ahead of many dangerous pathogens’’, Dr Moeti said. WHO Regional Director added that the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a poignant reminder of the importance of a strong surveillance system. “Only when every case is promptly detected, quickly hospitalised and offered timely medical care – and all close contacts vaccinated and properly monitored – will the Ebola outbreak end. Equally important, devastating outbreaks can be ‘nipped in the bud’ if cases are quickly detected before they widely spread in communities’’. Nigeria in recent years has had outbreaks of diseases such as lassa fever, yellow fever, meningitis and most recently Ebola virus.
The risk of disease transmission has been increasing largely due to the growth of cross-border movements and international travel, increasing human population density and informal settlements along with climate change impacts and changes in the way humans and wild animals interacts. The WHO said that more than 80 per cent of the public health emergencies in the WHO African Region between 2016 and 2018 were due to infectious diseases. The new strategy aims to ensure that countries cope with major outbreaks and other health emergencies.
These include ensuring good leadership and vigorous accountability frameworks, promoting the availability of skilled health workers at all levels, providing feedback to communities and sharing information among member states, strengthening high-quality community-based surveillance for the early detection and reporting of priority diseases and improving national laboratory systems. Ms Moeti added that with this new blueprint for strengthening Africa’s surveillance and response to disease in hand, it is believed that countries will make the investments needed to beef up their capacities. “Paying now for robust surveillance will create a huge dividend in better health for Africans, not only now but in the future.
“Equally important, the framework makes clear that vector-borne diseases are not just a public health problem. “It’s a problem for a parade of sectors, and we need a reinvigorated and integrated response that is critically adjusted to overcome the changed behaviours and conditions.” Vector-borne diseases Vector-borne diseases are human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by mosquitoes, sandflies, triatomine bugs, blackflies, ticks, tsetse flies, mites, snails and lice. Every year there are more than 700 000 deaths from diseases such as malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and onchocerciasis, globally. The major vector-borne diseases, together, account for around 17% of all infectious diseases.
The burden of these diseases is highest in tropical and subtropical areas and they disproportionately affect the poorest populations. Since 2014, major outbreaks of dengue, malaria, chikungunya yellow fever and Zika have afflicted populations, claimed lives and overwhelmed health systems in many countries. Distribution of vector-borne diseases is determined by complex demographic, environmental and social factors. Global travel and trade, unplanned urbanization and environmental challenges such as climate change can impact on pathogen transmission, making transmission season longer or more intense or causing diseases to emerge in countries where they were previously unknown. Changes in agricultural practices due to variation in temperature and rainfall can affect the transmission of vector-borne diseases. The growth of urban slums, lacking reliable piped water or adequate solid waste management, can render large populations in towns and cities at risk of viral diseases spread by mosquitoes. Together, such factors influence the reach of vector populations and the transmission patterns of disease-causing pathogens.