Health

FEATURE:Addressing threat of Emerging Infectious Diseases in Africa

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Participants at the just concluded 5th African Conference on Emerging Infection Diseases and Biosecurity, held in Abuja, agreed that African countries must strengthen their National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs).

They said that strengthening the institutes would enable the countries mitigate infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.

They noted that the continent had continued to experience increased cases of Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) like Ebola, Lassa Fever , Yellow Fever, Monkey Pox, Cholera, Bird Flu and Meningitis.

There also noted cases of drug-resistance diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis and Bacterial pneumonias.

Available statistics indicate that infectious diseases are responsible for about one quarter of deaths worldwide, causing at least 10 million deaths annually, mainly in the tropical countries.

Experts say that public health plays a leading role in the areas of preparedness and planning to check outbreak of diseases.

In most situations, the public health system would be the first to detect cases and raise  alarm, it would also be at the front line throughout the response.

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), echoed the need for African countries to combat emerging infectious diseases, through strong NPHIs.

Ihekweazu, who spoke at the conference with the theme: “Climate Change and Conflict: Implication for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity in Africa,’’ stressed that Africa must mitigate the infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.

He stressed the need for a strong surveillance and response system managed by skilled public health experts.

Ihekweazu emphasised that African countries must demonstrate high level of preparedness to check disease outbreaks.

“Early detection through a sensitive surveillance system is required to know when and where the outbreak occurs to limit its spread.

“ Most importantly, a coordinated and rapid investigation is required to describe the outbreak and identify interventions,” Ihekweazu said.

Prof. Morenike Ukpong-Folayan, in her contribution, noted that Africa had continued to witness devastating consequences of infectious disease transmission such as the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ukpong-Folayan, who is of the College of Health Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University,  said to understand and respond to infectious disease transmission dynamics, it would require collective efforts and deployment  of technological advances at Africa’s disposal.

She said the transmission patterns were needed for continuous investigation of those complex relationships so that the continent could effectively predict future disease outbreaks.

“The rapid degradation of our environment in the form of deforestation, climate change and accumulation of toxins in water tables and the atmosphere, coupled with rapidly expanding megacities is creating opportunities for EIDs and biosecurity threats in Africa,” she added.

Ukpong-Folayan noted that shrinking natural resources was creating human competition for water and grazing, leading to demographic conflicts.

Akin Abayomi, a Professor of Medicine and Health Science said that “ poor management of waste and unchecked use of chemicals have contributed to the rise of infectious diseases.’’

Abayomi who is the Principal Investigator for Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said:

“Whatever we do on the surface of the earth is reflected in the water table that ends up carrying pathogens and heavy metals that are harmful to the body.

“The pressure on water is enormous, when we look at the drying up of the Lake Chad, a source of livelihood for 350 million people in four countries – Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, it has increased tension in the region.

“Wherever you have conflicts and insecurity, there is always the opportunity for biosecurity threats.”

Making reference to why Ebola spread rapidly in three countries– Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, he listed the reasons to include:

“Lack of human resources, economic and financial resources to cope.

“The inaccessibility of remote locations where the disease was on the rise.

“The inexperience of staff to handle the strange disease and the lack of specialised infrastructure for dangerous pathogens.’’

Mr Sunday Ishaku, an environmentalist said that infectious disease was a serious global health problem.

Ishaku said that epidemiological figures have shown that the burden of infectious disease was highest in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

He said preparedness was a subset of epidemic management, adding that epidemic preparedness constitutes all the activities that have to be undertaken from the national to the health facility levels to be ready to respond effectively to disease outbreaks.

Ishaku noted: “When all the activities are put together in a plan, then we have an epidemic preparedness and response plan.”

Dr Dotun Bobadoye, the Chief Operating Officer, Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium, said the impact of climate change and conflict in some parts of Africa should not be overlooked because of its huge impact on human beings, animals, crops and the environment.

“We should focus on combine impact of climate change and serious conflict that we are having in different parts of Africa on EIDs and biosecurity.

“Climate change is becoming a big challenge to Africa, especially with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather event.

“We are experiencing drought in parts of the continent ; in Nigeria, desertification is moving southwards with 350 hectares lost to desertification annually.

“Lake Chad, which used to be a source of water supply to about 30 million people, is drying up and we have lost 90 per cent of its water content within the last three decades. “This is having a serious impact on biosecurity.

“With the loss of such huge water volume, we have rebel groups rising up and killing thousands of people.’’

Bobadoye disclosed that the consortium, through the help of the Canadian Government and the Lagos State Government, had begun the construction of a biological laboratory in Lagos, where sensitive biological materials would be kept from getting into the wrong hands.

“We are collaborating with Lagos State Government to build a biosecurity laboratory, where highly pathogenic biological materials will be kept so that they do not get to the wrong hands.

“ It is sited in Lagos State and donated by the Canadian Government, it will start operation soon,” Bobadoye said.

As suggested by experts, African countries should strengthen their public health institutes in order to beef up their  preparedness to check outbreak of diseases. (NANFeatures)

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