The WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Luis Gomes Sambo has called for urgent action to address the recurrent epidemics in West African countries. He made this call while addressing delegates at the official opening of the 12th Ordinary Meeting of the Assembly of ECOWAS Health Ministers which is taking place in Lome, Togo from 5 - 7 May 2011.
The Regional Director commended the sub region for the important progress made in relation to the harmonisation of pharmaceutical policies and legislation, harmonisation of training curriculum for health workers as well as formulation of an ECOWAS sub-regional policy on HIV/AIDS. He also lauded significant reduction of malaria in some countries in the region.
Dr Sambo observed that over the past years, a number of countries in the sub-region have experienced conflicts, natural and man made disasters, which leads to complex humanitarian crises which impact on health systems and have consequence on the continuity of health care delivery, and nutrition problems. Furthermore these result in displacement of the populations, and violence against vulnerable populations namely women and children.
He reminded delegates about the decision by Health Ministers in the WHO African Region to establish the African Public Health Emergency Fund and said: “The important catalytic role that this Fund will play in responding to epidemics, natural and man-made disasters is indispensable. That is why I appeal to West African ECOWAS to support the implementation of this African solidarity fund. I count on the support of the Ministers of Health when the decision on modalities of contributions by Members States is discussed during the forthcoming 61st session of the Regional Committee.”
Referring to the Millennium Development Goals, he said the pace of progress in the African Region so far is not enough to attain the targets and stressed the need to place greater emphasis on improving maternal and child health. He added that the establishment of the Regional Commission on Women’s health under the Chairmanship of President Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia will assist in leveraging this important agenda.
The Regional Director also highlighted the scientific progress made in the development of the new vaccine against meningitis A which has been pre-qualified by WHO. This new vaccine which is now being used for preventive campaign is giving hope to people in the meningitis belt which had suffered from deadly epidemic outbreaks in the past years.
Drawing attention to cholera outbreaks, he pointed out that 85% of reported cases of cholera globally is in this part of the world. Like other continents which has successfully overcome cholera, Africa can emulate this achievement through preventive measures.
To this end improvement of access to safe water, access to basic sanitation infrastructure the majority of the population in addition to individual and collective hygiene as well as food safety should be part of an integrated strategy that needs to be promoted. He called for urgent reflection on cholera in every country.
In his opening remarks the Prime Minister of Togo Gilbert Fosson Houngo highlighted the health challenges facing the sub-region and underscored the importance of placing women, children and vulnerable people at the centre of development strategies. In this regard he said: “The Republic of Togo, last year succesfully launched the Campaign for the Acceleration of the Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMA) and also decided to provide free access to caesarean surgery.
With regards to recurrent epidemics and endemics which hamper development of the region, he mentioned the need to put in place sub-regional research mechanisms as an appropriate approach for the prevention and management of epidemics. “It is important for the West Africa countries to engage in a process of using science and technology for the benefit of health services. The renewal of health research requires strong research policies and the development of local competences, as well as better coordination of private and public actors”, he added.
The Prime Minister proposed the establishment of ARV manufacturing facility for the region and mechanisms for bulk procurement of caesarean kits to reduce costs.
The 12th Ordinary Meeting of the Assembly of ECOWAS Health Ministers is being organized in two phases. The two-day Ministerial session which was preceded by a three-day meeting of experts.