Embrace Comprehensive Approach To Pandemic Preparedness, WHO Urges Nigeria

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has emphasised the importance of Nigeria adopting a comprehensive strategy for pandemic preparedness.

WHO Country Representative for Nigeria, Dr. Walter Mulombo conveyed this message on Monday during the second Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of Nigeria’s health security capacity. The evaluation focuses on the assessment of the country’s international health regulations (IHR) prescribed core capacities.

Mulombo noted that the second JEE offers Nigeria a valuable opportunity to establish a comprehensive approach to governance in the realm of health security. He explained that the JEE is a voluntary, collaborative, and multi-sectoral process aimed at assessing a country’s capabilities to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to public health risks, whether stemming from natural occurrences or deliberate/accidental events. Mulombo emphasised that the JEE assists countries in identifying critical gaps within their human and animal health systems, allowing for the prioritisation of areas for enhanced preparedness and response.

The director of public health at the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike stressed the importance of recognising the significance of this evaluation process in bolstering the country’s ability to protect the health and well-being of its citizens. Anyaike lauded Nigeria’s determination to enhance its capacities in disease surveillance, emergency response, points of entry and borders, laboratory systems, and workforce development.

He pointed out that the insights garnered from the JEE will serve as a roadmap to further improve the country’s preparedness, response, and recovery mechanisms. The director of the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), Dr. Mary Boyd underscored the collaborative nature of the US CDC’s approach to building the capacity to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health threats.

According to Boyd, working together to prepare for outbreaks before they occur is pivotal in protecting lives globally, conserving resources, and containing outbreaks effectively. The senior health specialist at the World Bank, Dr. Michael Olugbile highlighted how the Ebola outbreak drew increased attention from development financing institutions towards health security.

Olugbile noted that the World Bank is evaluating the progress achieved through the Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) project, using JEE indicators as a framework for assessment. A representative of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Dr. Olusola Aruna revealed that the UKHSA’s IHR Strengthening project has contributed to bolstering Nigeria’s core capacities over the past seven years.

Aruna emphasised that the outcome of the second JEE validation exercise will provide direction for the country by highlighting gaps and opportunities, leveraging the nation’s strengths. Dr. Damisa Levine from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) stressed that national security and health security are intertwined, as the health of citizens is integral to a nation’s true security.

Levine affirmed ONSA’s commitment to ensuring health for all citizens. Senior technical officer at the Africa CDC Regional Collaborative Centre for West Africa, Ms. Chioma DanNwafor commended Nigeria for achieving the milestone of the second JEE, emphasising the One Health approach and the effort invested by all stakeholders.

Regional technical coordinator of the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), Dr. Patrick Nguku described Nigeria’s pursuit of the second JEE as a historic moment. Nguku highlighted AFENET’s collaborative work with the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (NCDC) and other agencies to enhance public health workforce development.

A representative of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), Dr. Islamiyat Olatinwo emphasised that Nigeria’s second JEE embodies a collaborative, multi-sectoral process. Olatinwo stated that the gathering reflects a shared commitment to safeguarding both global and national health security.

A representative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Salome Bawa highlighted the Nigerian government’s recognition of the significance of conducting a JEE. Bawa emphasised that the JEE encourages global health security actors to unite their efforts in achieving a common goal.

Dr. Mie Okamura from the WHO’s emergency preparedness and response team discussed the WHO’s support for the establishment of the JEE as one of the four IHR monitoring and evaluation frameworks. Okamura acknowledged the progress made over the past five years in addressing health system gaps identified in the previous JEE.

Director-general of the NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa viewed the JEE as an opportunity to assess the country’s progress since the initial evaluation in 2017. He highlighted the mixed progress and challenges Nigeria has faced in public health during recent years.

Adetifa celebrated the resilience of healthcare professionals, the strength of partnerships, and the spirit of the Nigerian people demonstrated through responses to various disease outbreaks. He emphasised the evolving global health threats and the need for agile, robust and responsive health security systems.

Adetifa provided an overview of Nigeria’s national health system, public health services, and health security systems, listing aspirations such as political ownership of health security processes at subnational levels, increased domestic health investments through budgetary allocations, improved geographical access to health facilities, and the pursuit of Universal Health Coverage.

Adetifa acknowledged progress in public health services’ accessibility, yet stressed that there remains a considerable distance to cover. He pointed out significant variations in the quality and availability of healthcare facilities across the country, demonstrating the need for further improvement. Adetifa highlighted key achievements since the establishment of the NCDC as Nigeria’s public health institute, including the establishment of reference laboratory campuses, a national stockpile for outbreak medical commodities logistics, a digitalized infectious disease surveillance system, an antimicrobial resistance surveillance system and infectious disease treatment centres.

In line with its mandate, the NCDC continues to lead preparedness, detection, and response efforts to public health emergencies. The International Health Regulations (2005) bind member countries of the World Health Organisation to develop and maintain capacities to prevent, detect, assess, and respond to public health risks and emergencies. Following the initial JEE, Nigeria is among a select group of countries conducting a second round of evaluations, utilising advanced JEE 3.0 tools.

The JEE, a voluntary multi-sectoral process, is one of the four components within the IHR monitoring and evaluation framework. This process involves a team of experts collectively assessing a nation’s preparedness and response capacities across 19 technical areas, guided by relevant ministries, departments and agencies. The ongoing commitment to these evaluations underscores Nigeria’s dedication to enhancing its health security capabilities, effectively mitigating potential threats and ensuring the well-being of its citizens.

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