May 8 Dakar - With the increasing threat of health emergencies crossing borders, six African countries are building their capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to acute emergencies. Together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international partners, the Senegal Ministry of Health and Social Action is hosting a regional simulation exercise, which will include Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia from 8-9 May 2018.
The exercise will simulate a real-life acute emergency where a novel and deadly respiratory virus will land in Senegal with the potential to spread to other countries, triggering the activation of the Public Health Emergency Operations Centres and the implementation of response plans and procedures.
“With an acute health emergency occurring on average every three days in Africa, it is crucial that countries are ready to jump into action,” said Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO’s Regional Emergencies Director for Africa. “This first simulation exercise involving multiple Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs) in the region is testing the countries readiness to activate EOCs effectively to control outbreaks before they spiral out of control and claim many lives.”
The exercise aims to test the EOC’s procedures during a health emergency, familiarize key health actors with important technologies in communication and their capacity to coordinate and collaborate under difficult circumstances and define and document links between the national emergency management authorities and other key sectors. In addition, communication and sharing of information among EOCs in the region will be tested.
The simulation involves people from the six Health Emergency Operations Centres and other government partners such as the Civil Protection Departments, as well as WHO, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), Public Health England (PHE) and non-governmental organizations.
“We hope to identify areas of strength to be built upon and opportunities for improvement,” said Dr Fall.
The EOCs play a critical role in preparedness and response to outbreaks and other acute health emergencies, but the concept of them taking the lead is still relatively new and many key actors have limited knowledge of the value of the EOCs and their operations. The centres often face a shortage of trained personnel and lack adequate resources.
WHO is working with countries to beef up their readiness for health emergencies and has set a target of having 80% of member states to have functional health EOCs by 2020.