Zambia is one of the three countries that have been selected for piloting the 3rd edition of the Technical Guidelines for Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) for the WHO African Region. In order to conduct the pilot testing exercise, the WHO Regional Office for Africa has convened a five days meeting in Livingstone City which has brought together experts from the Ministry of Health, Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI), Africa Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC), United States Centres for Disease Prevention and Control ( US CDC), WHO Country Office and other partners to review and provide inputs to the final draft of the document and to propose broad areas for consideration for adaptation at country level. This is intended to ensure that the guidelines are comprehensive and appropriate for addressing the current national and global surveillance goal of enhancing public health security.
This meeting has provided a forum for WHO to introduce the revised guidelines, to engage the country to develop a shared understanding of the guidelines including the updated tools. It will also enable WHO to obtain specific feedback on the clarity, value added and gaps as well as suggested enhancements that could be made to the final version and to identify what is needed to harmonize the document with existing national policies, structure and procedures for public health surveillance, outbreak preparedness, investigation and response.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, the epidemiologist at the Zambia National Public Health Institute, Dr. Muzala Kapin’a stated that IDSR was a comprehensive, evidence-based strategy for strengthening national public health surveillance and response systems. She emphasized the fact that effective and efficient surveillance and response systems were critical in ensuring public health security and reduced morbidity and mortality from disease outbreaks and other public health events. She said that Zambia had used the IDSR strategy since 2001 and was using the revised 2nd edition since 2011 and that it looked forward to the finalization of the 3rd edition of the IDSR guidelines and its adaptation for use in the country. She said that Zambia was privileged to be a pilot site for the 3rd edition of the IDSR, and particularly that the exercise process would contribute to the process of adaptation of the guidelines for the country.
In her opening presentation, Dr. Janneth Mghamba, medical officer from the WHO Emergencies Programme at the WHO Regional Office for Africa said that the WHO African region was recording on average of three public health events each week with viral haemorrhagic diseases, cholera and measles topping the list. She said that capacities for public health systems to prevent, timely detect, and respond to public health threats were weak and that implementation of the IDSR strategy had not yet covered 100% of the districts in several countries. Dr. Mghamba said that taking into consideration the lessons learnt from the unprecedented Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, and other related outbreaks, it was deemed necessary to provide contemporary guidance to the Member States in line with the Regional strategy for health security and emergencies 2016–2020. She emphasized the fact that one of the targets for IDSR in the region was that by 2020, over 40 Member States should implement IDSR including event based surveillance with at least 90 percent coverage at sub-national level.
This meeting has brought together experts and key partners at country level, notably: the IDSR national focal person, IDSR district focal person, International Health Regulations (IHR) national focal person, national epidemiologist, laboratory personnel, and technical staff in other vertical programs such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB. Technical staff from the WHO Country Office participating includes: the epidemiologist and national professional officers in the areas of disease prevention, surveillance, health systems strengthening, health promotion, reproductive health and HIV and AIDs.
The piloting of the 3rd edition of the guidelines by WHO AFRO is being undertaken in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia as a last final step before the final launch later in the year. The revision was necessitated by the evolving public health situation in the region and new knowledge gained during previous Ebola Virus Disease outbreaks in West Africa in 2014/2015 and Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018 and during response to public health emergencies in fragile systems. The final draft guidelines have been extensively reviewed by internal and external experts from WHO as well as the US CDC.