By Maureen Ntari

One-Healthphoto

Photo: Health experts from across the East African Community pause for a photo during a three day regional stakeholder’s forum at Namanga, Kenya.

Stakeholders within the health sector in the East African Community (EAC) Partner States are taking precautionary measures against the threat of possible emergence and recurrence of communicable diseases like the dreaded Ebola virus in the region.

Subsequently, regional health experts converged at the Namanga- Kenya border for a three day regional One-Health, Table-top and Field Simulation exercises for emerging and re-emerging epidemic and pandemic threats of Ebola Virus Disease and other communicable diseases, emergency preparedness and response. In this situation, approach to health issues is adopted jointly for the entire region, and tackled on a round-table formula that leaves out no stakeholders.

The meeting followed fears of a possible occurrence and re-occurrence in sections of EAC region of Ebola Virus and other communicable diseases.

The participants noted that some of the most common examples of re-emerging infectious diseases, which have struck a few countries of EAC in the last decade include: the Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, anthrax, Ebola and Marburg outbreaks, causing great fear and posing a major threat to the region’s public health and rending a blow to the regional economy.

The simulation exercises are a product of the 9th Ordinary Meeting of the EAC Sectoral Council of Ministers of Health held in Zanzibar, Tanzania which approved the institutionalization of the One Health approach in the East African community in order to prevent and control zoonotic diseases and other occurrences.

Mr. Timothy Wesonga a senior officer at the EAC Secretariat,referred to article 118 (a) of the EAC Treaty, in which the EAC Partner States agree to take joint action towards the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases and to control pandemics and epidemics of communicable and vector-borne diseases.

He noted that the EAC Secretariat had formed structures such as the East African Community Trans-boundary Diseases and the Regional Rapid Response Team has been actively participating in responding to outbreaks. He also noted that 70% of human diseases are transmitted by animals and therefore urged the Partner States to strengthen the implementation of One Health concept.

He further thanked Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease of United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (UNFAO-ECTAD) for supporting simulation exercises and noted that a total of six table top and two field simulation exercises had been conducted in the EAC region. Through these simulation exercises the Partner States were able to test their contingency plans and also create working teams for sharing information and responding to subsequent disease outbreaks.

Participants at the three-day meeting included representatives of the EAC Partner States (National level and County/Districts of the Republic of Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania), National Ministries responsible for human health, animal health, Ministry of EAC Affairs, Immigration, representatives of security agencies, immigration and customs officers.

Mr. Elibariki Mwakapejean epidemiologist from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and also the chairman of the simulation exercise, noted that the meeting provided an opportunity for the EAC Partner states to work together in implementing the field simulation exercise based on available contingency plans. He further informed the participants on the need to test the available contingency plans and urged them to prepare and plan well for the upcoming table top and field simulation exercises.

He commended EAC Partner States for the strides taken in implementing One Health and further reminded the participants that the heavy rainy season is expected and urged the countries to be alert as there may be outbreaks following the season.

Mwakapeje therefore urged the EAC and ECSA Health Community Secretariats to support the Partner States to test their contingency plans before outbreaks occurs. He further urged the partner states to strengthen their IDSR System so that disease outbreaks are detected and timely responded to.

The chairman however raised concern over the different policies that come with the different ministries and institutions and urged EAC to recommend a policy that will work for the sustainability of the simulation exercise.

The field simulation exercise will be conducted in June 2016 and will be preceded over by preparatory and resource mobilization activities to obtain funds to support the activity. The activity will involve: conducting table top simulation exercises, taking stock of available resources at the border points (health facilities, equipment, ambulances, human resources, infrastructure etc), and mobilization of the necessary resources and; for field simulation.