US Understudies Nigeria’s Health Emergency Preparedness, Response 

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The United States government through its Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has sent a delegation to Nigeria to learn capacity-building for global health security, disease detection, preparedness and response. 

The director, Global Health Advocacy, United Nations Foundation, Mr. Brian Massa who led the delegation to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), National Reference Laboratory (NRL) at the weekend in Abuja, said the Nigerian government is doing a great work in line with the international health regulation (IHR).

“We are here at the national reference lab in NCDC to learn about the great work that the Nigerian government is doing with capacity-building for global health security, disease detection, preparedness and response. 

“Nigeria is in line with the IHR core capacities required to detect, assess, notify and respond to public health risks and emergencies of national and international concern, as stipulated in Articles 5 and 13 and Annex 1 of the regulations,” he said. 

Massa said that the delegation observed the laboratory diagnostic facilities and discuss the importance of resilient health systems, the integration and data-sharing of country-wide disease detection, as well as the country’s response to the current Monkeypox outbreak amongst others. 

“This year’s visit to Nigeria will further develop the roster of congressional staffers who work on global health policy to understand how bilateral global health security investments in the country have strengthened global health security and pandemic preparedness,” he disclosed. 

According to him, it’s a great partnership between the Nigerian government and the United States government. 

“So, the US CDC has provided very generous and important support on collaboration with the NCDC to provide training, technical capacity building and to be able to detect diseases early.” 

Massa said through partnerships with the NCDC, the US CDC is improving the quality of critical public health services in the country.

In his response, the director-general, NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa said the NCDC’s NRL in Abuja is the organisation’s focal laboratory providing high-quality public health laboratory services, coordinating laboratory-based surveillance and providing oversight to state public health laboratories in the country. 

Adetifa said that the U.S government through the US CDC and implementing partners have supported the agency with laboratory equipment, consumables, reagents and technical support. 

“As such, over the last several years, the U.S Congress supported by the UN Foundation has organised congressional learning trips to observe global health, UN peacekeeping, humanitarian and development operations across the globe, highlighting the U.S-UN partnership in the field,” he explained. 

The NCDC boss said that the US congressional delegation is made up of staffers and principal aides of the US senators and members of the House of Representatives or Congress with a task in health services, global health or health security. 

“So, they are here on behalf of their principals because within their principals’ offices, they handle health-related or global health issues. 

“It is important that they understand in visits such as this where the US government investments are going, what they are achieving and what other areas may require support, even as they think about their national security and think about global health security as a whole. 

“Also, provides us with an opportunity to lay out areas that we may require support, either directly by what we say or indirectly by what they see,” he explained.

When asked about the country’s preparedness for a future pandemic, Adetifa, however, said it was a difficult question to answer and went on to highlight lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think the question about whether people are prepared for pandemics or not, is a difficult one to answer.  Now, given the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a ranking of countries that were supposedly in a better place to deal with pandemics but COVID-19 came and showed us that the ranking was irrelevant. 

“However, the message I take away from the ranking is that it shows the importance of having resilient health systems. So, after everybody was confronted by COVID-19, we all sort of collapsed. But then we can see how systems are recovering,” he stressed. 

Earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, EPI Focal Point, Universal Health Coverage (UHC), Dr. Kofi Boateng said that there have been significant improvements in the country’s laboratories which is a critical area of health security. 

Boating said that the country can detect, assess, report and respond to public health events, which is the core capability of IHR. 

He, however, said that as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, investing in preparedness is much cheaper and more effective than funding responses.

While stressing WHO’s continuous support in the country, he said investment in preparation must be founded on continuous community engagement, coordination between sectors and sensitive and flexible surveillance and response systems. 

Science Nigeria reports that the US has been a longstanding global health security leader. In 2014, the US helped launch Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to strengthen the world’s ability to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats. 

Now, more than 70 countries, as well as international organisations, non-governmental organisations and private sector entities, are united in a common goal of measurably strengthening global health security – with the target of strengthening country capacities by 2024 for 100 countries in, at least, five specific technical areas. 

GHSA emphasises the importance of a whole-of-government and multi-sectoral effort to build national capacity to prepare for biological catastrophes, which include human and animal health, agriculture, security, defence, law enforcement, development assistance, foreign affairs and finance. 

In 2018, GHSA members renewed the initial five-year phase of action (2014-2019) for a second five-year phase (2019-2024), known as “GHSA 2024.” GHSA 2024 works to accelerate the implementation of and compliance with the IHR (2005), a legally binding instrument adopted by 196 countries, including the 194 World Health Organization (WHO), Member States, to strengthen country-level capabilities needed to prevent, detect, and respond to health emergencies.

The United States is fully dedicated to assisting countries around the world to improve health security capacities and meet the 2024 target, informed and measured using the globally- endorsed IHR Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (MEF), including the Joint External Evaluation (JEE).

Racheal Abujah
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