By Danmaryam Zayamu
Countries under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have expressed their determination to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for risk communication among countries and regional entities and structures in Public Health Emergencies (PHE).
This is in an effort to provide prompt and timely information that will enable countries in the region combat epidemics when they occur.
Responding to questions from journalists at a two-day workshop in Abuja, the Officer-In-Charge of risk communications on health for ECOWAS Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control, Dr. Babacar Fall, noted that risk communication is not strong in West Africa.
The workshop was organised by the West African Health Organization (WAHO) in a collaboration with the Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCDSC) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH Regional Pandemic Prevention Programme (RPPP).
It was funded by the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Speaking, Dr. Fall said: “The meeting aims to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for risk communication between countries and regional entities and structures in Public Health Emergencies (PHE).
“In the international health regulations, risk communication is number six. Risk communication in West African countries is not very strong and human capacity is not yet developed.
“Our mission is to reinforce this risk communication at the regional and national level.
“More than 60 percent of the diseases we face in our region come from animals. Therefore, West African countries need to move and work together because we have similar challenges and issues.”
He reiterating the need for the countries to adopt what he described as One Health.
One Health, he explained, is the situation where both human health, animal health and the environment are given close attention.
“If we discuss human health and don’t take care of animal health, we will not reach our target and will end up jeopardizing the health indices of our countries.
“We therefore need to prioritize animal health, the environmental and human health. These three make up what we call – One Health.”
On the way forward after the workshop, he said: “Once we develop the SOP, everyone at the national and regional levels will know what they have to do, who to contact, the level of urgency the situation requires, etc., in terms of communication and coordination, when there is a disease outbreak. It also assigns responsibility to various players at the national and regional levels.”
He, however, lamented that most countries in the region are not vast in risk communication even though some have considerable understanding of it.
“The situation is not the same everywhere. Five countries are very aware of the importance of risk communication, and Nigeria is one of them.
“These countries have put in place human and financial resources for the implementation of risk communication, while others are in the process of doing same. We only need to be more organized at the national and regional levels.
“Our mission is to put together our resources; the strong countries can support the weaker ones. We also have a lot of partners to support risk communication.
“Among the partners are World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and World Bank. World Bank has put in a lot of resources to finance risk communications processes.”