Network for Infectious Disease Surveillance to be established in West Africa

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By Kwami Ahabenu, II

ARUSHA Tanzania , 16th December, 2015, When Ebola broke out in some West African countries in 2014, the world was caught, pants down, with the end result being many deaths. This could have been prevented but national systems for viral disease surveillance in most African countries still remain the number one challenge in the fight against infectious disease outbreak. Coupled with this is the fact that remote areas with poorly equipped medical and veterinary facilities were the epic centers for the outbreak, making it problematic for faster detection and response.

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In order to develop an African lead solutions for the management of  future outbreaks of infections diseases both in humans and animals using one health principle;  Connecting Organization for Regional Disease Surveillance (CORDS) organized a 2 day stakeholder international conference under the theme “UNITED AGAINST INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Towards enhancing African and African-led capacity for the risk management of epidemics” in association with Southern African Centre for Infections Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) and East Africa Integrated disease network ( EAIDSNet).

In addition to these 2 African based networks, CORDS have networks in other regions of the world namely Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network (MBDS), Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance (MECIDS),

Southeast European Center for Surveillance and Control of Infectious Disease (SECIDS), South Eastern European Health Network (SEEHN) and Asian Partnership on Emerging Infectious Disease Research (APEIR).

According to Prof Nigel LightFoot, Executive Director of CORDS, this stakeholder conference was designed to show-and-tell what has been achieved in the fight against infectious disease while setting out a collaborative road-map for key partners to ensure that epidemics are detected early and responded to faster at community level.

This will ensure reduction in mortality associated with such epidemics. Leveraging the power of networks, smarter partnerships and community driven efforts can make significant difference during outbreaks. Therefore significant investment in facilitating this approach was the main driver for the CORDS networks in East Africa (EAIDSNet) and in Southern Africa (SACIDS) to help to establish a West African Network for Infectious Disease Surveillance (WANIDS).

Dr. Bakary S. Sylla, who is leading the effort in the development of WANIDS, was excited about the conference, since it provides a unique opportunity for learning, information and knowledge exchange as West African countries are now working hard to form West Africa based disease surveillance network to provide a robust capacity to respond better to future outbreaks in the sub region.

In enabling effective and efficient risk management of future epidemics, disease management and response, focus should be placed on the frontline stakeholders including communities where these incidents do occur. In this direction, the conference discussions were premised on four success pillars namely:early detection,  faster response, smoother coordination and  smarter legacy.

It was abundantly clear that African leaders and doers have the capacity to inspire and drive innovations, which are required on the continent.  In this direction, the key word for the conference centered on Africa lead solution in disease surveillance (#africanleaddiseases)

The first day of the conference was filled with insightful presentation and lively discussion on topics such as Disease Networking, preparedness, early detection,faster response, smoother coordination, recovery and building a smarter legacy after outbreaks of epidemics. A poster session run along the conference which focused on a number of key issues including Digital technology driven Community based disease surveillance and cross-border data sharing practicesamong others. The conference ended with a world café designed to produce tangible proposals to convert words into action from The Arusha “wall of ideas” which harvested bright ideas generated during the meeting.

Dr. Franklin Apfel, the Managing Director of World Health Communication and one of the conference facilitators, reminded the scientists to develop their communication skills so that they are better equipped to reach out to the larger audience while investing in better engagement with journalists as partners in order for their work to achieve greater impact.The workshop was ended by a reversal press conference, where journalists were in the hot seat with scientists and researchers posing questions to them instead of journalists asking questions.

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