By Gift Briton

To ensure that African countries are adequately prepared for public health emergencies, they need to fully roll out International Health Regulations (IHR) capacities, monitor them continuously, and periodically evaluate and address the existing gaps.

This is according to Dr. Miriam Nanyunja, Acting Team Lead World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Preparedness and Response-Hub who spoke during the Emergency Preparedness and Response workshop for East and Southern African (ESA) Countries in Nairobi.

Dr. Nanyunja noted that doing this will strengthen their health systems and make them more resilient and able to continue providing the needed services even during emergencies such as COVID-19.

According to WHO, in the last two decades, more than 2000 public health emergencies have been recorded in Africa.

IHR are capacities that every country should have in order to be able to protect and timely detect diseases, emergencies and respond to them sustainably in a timely and effective manner.

Dr. Nanyunja giving a presentation at the conference

They include having funding dedicated for emergency preparedness and response, being able to detect diseases that can be transmitted from animals to human beings, enhanced food safety, having laboratory systems in place that can do diagnosis, effective surveillance system, trained personnel who are able to respond to emergencies, health surveillance at points of entry, chemical emergency and being able to handle radiological emergencies among others.

According to Dr. Nanyunja, the ESA region has been able to implement less than 50% of the required IHR capacities, adding that areas such as responding to chemical explosions, radiological emergencies and detecting emergencies at entry points like the airports, were almost nonexistent in most of the countries.

However, most of these countries are doing well in the implementation of capabilities like immunization, surveillance systems and laboratory systems.

As a step towards strengthening emergency preparedness in the region, WHO will be working closely with some countries to help them build national action plans (NAPs) to strengthen their health security. The NAPs will build on the identified gaps and identify what action they should take in order to develop that capacity.

WHO estimates that effective implementation of the IHR capabilities, would protect approximately up to two million lives from health emergencies effects.

Dr. Nanyunja noted that one of the key factors limiting the building of IHR capabilities in most African countries is the lack of prioritization. This is because most African countries do not prioritize enough to put adequate funding towards the building of those IHR capabilities.