South Sudan joins EAC peers in conducting drills for disease surveillance

South Sudan joins EAC peers in conducting drills for disease surveillance
Unknown medics conduct first-aid on a man who seems to be seriously sick. [Photo: WHO Africa]

South Sudan is among the five East African Community (EAC) member states taking part in a simulation exercise to step up response to health emergencies.

Others are Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and host Tanzania.

The five countries that share a border at some point, have stepped-up efforts to eradicate communicable diseases like cholera, Ebola, Marburg, measles and Rift Valley Fever that have affected the region in the past.

“We are living in an interlinked world as exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. This reality rings so true in East Africa where our people and countries have close socioeconomic ties. An infectious disease outbreak in one country can longer be seen as a remote possibility at home,” said Dr David Balikowa, East African Community Senior Livestock Officer.

During the simulation at the Kilimanjaro International Airport in Arusha, Tanzania, the participants held a practical session of realistic disaster scenarios aimed at empowering attendees to build capacity in decision-making skills and coordination between national and district level authorities.

The participants also learned how to design operational plans and protocols to contain an outbreak.

Although most EAC countries have built capacities through responding to various emergencies annually, the frequency and scale of the emergencies continue to stretch available resources. Additionally, the increased trade and travel among the countries present a risk of rapid cross border spread of diseases.

“Emergency preparedness is crucial not just to save lives and preserve health, entire economies can be devastated and livelihoods wiped out without effective response,” said Dr Mary Stephen, Focal Point for International Health regulations at WHO Regional Office for Africa.

“At WHO, we stand firmly behind national efforts to better respond and cope with the impacts of emergencies.”

The simulation exercise, which builds upon previous drills, also aims to empower participants to operate the various forms of simulations as well as make their skills available for the regional pool of rapidly deployable experts.

“Fighting for more resilient health systems can also help to withstand the shock of disaster and potential damage from emergencies,” said GIZ Project Manager Dr Irene Lukassowitz.

“This is why the EAC hosted the simulation exercise for operations at points of entry to ensure all protocols and international health regulations are followed accordingly.”

The International Health Regulations require countries to develop capacities in 13 spheres to prepare, detect and respond effectively to health emergencies. As of 2021, no country in the African region had fully attained the capacities.

Although these EAC member states are yet to fully achieve the requirements of optimizing health emergency preparedness and response at points of entry, they have stepped up their capacities largely due to investments made since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.