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How African countries can effectively manage disease outbreaks —Experts

Some experts have said it is crucial for African countries to strengthen their surveillance and laboratory systems in order to effectively manage disease outbreaks before…

Some experts have said it is crucial for African countries to strengthen their surveillance and laboratory systems in order to effectively manage disease outbreaks before they cause a lot of harm.

They stated this during the virtual training sessions of the Africa Disease Reporting Fellowship (ADReF) for journalists reporting health in Africa, organised by the Africa Diseases Prevention and Research Development Initiative (ADRAP).

Dr Muhammad Shakir Balogun, Resident Advisor, Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme of the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), said strengthening surveillance and laboratory systems helps in the early detection of diseases.

“So we have to set up a system that can detect issues when they come up. We have to strengthen our labs, and community-based surveillance and event-based surveillance.

“We need to make these investments. We need to train people who are capable of doing that. At least to help us to detect them. So when we need help we can quickly ask for help,” he said.

Speaking on the topic ‘Epidemiology of Communicable Diseases and Contextual Reporting’, he said better laboratory support and surveillance, helped in managing the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014.

 While citing the example of the Ebola outbreak in DRC, he said one of the infected persons who escaped to South Africa was easily detected as a result of the good surveillance system and infection and prevention measures in South Africa.

“The person was actually diagnosed with Ebola because of the good laboratory system and IPC measures in the country and the disease was curtailed. And even when the disease came to Nigeria, the surveillance system, contact tracing and other activities activated really helped us.”

Shakir said strengthening the surveillance system should commence right from the ward, local government, to the national levels.

“So there is no way we can be better in preventing and detecting diseases if we don’t have a good surveillance system,” he added.

He further explained that it was also important to  analyze data in real-time, adding “So it’s not just about collecting data, but also analyzing trends.”

Also speaking on the issue,  Dr Francis Kateh Na, a former minister of health in Liberia, said the current laboratory systems in the region are not optimal and need to be strengthened.

Na, who spoke on the topic ‘The African Ebola Response with Focus on the  Liberian Experience’, said every country in the region needs to strengthen both the surveillance and laboratory systems.

He said there was a need to find a way of transporting specimens and the time frame to get results.

He said one way to strengthen surveillance is to have bilateral collaboration and relationship with neighbouring countries.

Na said doing so helps outbreaks to be easily detected in communities and for early interventions.

He said, “You don’t wait for the disease outbreaks before you take action, you prepare ahead.”

According to him, when there is peace you, prepare for war so that when the war comes you have bullets to fight the war.

 

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