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Combating Ebola, Lassa fever outbreaks in Africa

By Adaku Onyenucheya
14 November 2019   |   4:22 am
Scientists have said to improve global health security, there is need for Africa to adopt multidisciplinary approach to combat emerging infectious diseases outbreaks such as Ebola...

Researchers in Nigeria are racing to identify cases of Lassa fever — and to understand why the ongoing outbreak is the worst on record. CREDIT: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty

Scientists have said to improve global health security, there is need for Africa to adopt multidisciplinary approach to combat emerging infectious diseases outbreaks such as Ebola, Lassa fever, Monkey pox and others ravaging the continent.

They said African governments must be proactive in designing and implementimg programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.

Speaking at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research sixth International Scientific Conference with theme: “One Health and Global Health Security: Need to be Proactive Through Health Research”, the Director-General, Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Salako, said more than 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin, as many of the same microorganisms infect both animals and humans while they share the same ecosystem.

He explained that as drug-resistant microbes can be transmitted between animals and humans through direct contact between them or contaminated food, there is need to break professional disciplinary and institutional boundaries, as well as work in a more integrated fashion to effectively detect, respond to and prevent outbreaks of zoonosis and good safety problems.

“To be able to improve global health security, there is a need to look at how this relationship exists, how can we prevent the transmission of animal diseases to human and where it has been transmitted, how do we treat and limit damages to humans through infections and this will require a multidisciplinary team, which will include veterinarian, clinician, basic scientist, environmentalist and the social sciences. All of them will have to come together to come up with a better way or approach of prevention,” he said.

Salako, however, called on policy makers, researchers and workers across sectors to implement joint responses to health threats, develop framework and indicators to ensure impact of one-health activities, as well as share epidemiological data and laboratory information across sectors for quick response.

Meanwhile, the Chair, Conference Organising Committee, Dr. Agatha David, lamented on the recent report of the World Health Organisation, which stated that the burden of zoonotic diseases is high in West Africa.

She said emerging and reemerging diseases at the human-animal-ecosystem interface are occurring with increased frequency in Africa as evidenced by the ‘sad and frightening’ recent outbreaks of Ebola virus disease, Lass fever, Monkey pox.

She said the Global Health Security Agenda, which was launched in 2014 to build capacity to help create a world safe and secure from infectious disease threat and elevate global health security as a national and global priority, acknowledges the essential need for multi-sectoral approach in the development of strategies to prevent, detect and respond to these diseases threat, whether naturally occurring, deliberate or accidental.

She noted that this capacity would mitigate the devastating effects of highly pathogenic infectious diseases and bioterrorism events.

Also speaking, the Chairman of the conference, Dr. Aubrey Cunnington, Reader in Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Imperial College, London, United Kingdom, said there is need to think of the health of humans along with animals and how it affects health globally, in order to combat the devastating infectious diseases that emerge in one part of the world and then spread all over the world.

He said African governments should ensure they put infrastructure and funding in place to prepare for diseases when they emerge.

“The key thing that will help to achieve this one health is having infrastructure and funding in place, that makes you prepared for when these diseases emerge, you need to be constantly on the look out, you need be doing research, which is surveying the environment, human health and animal health and looking for signals that these diseases are emerging.

“When something does take off as an outbreak, you have an infrastructure in place that is ready to deal with it and that requires funding from the government to invest in research, as well as preparation of individuals and sharing of knowledge between countries,” he added.

Also the Director of International Cooperation Africa and Head, European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), South Africa, Prof. Moses Bockarie, in his keynote address titled: “The Role of African Governments and Research Institutions in Implementing One Health”, said, ‘ health security is how we can use one health to prevent public health emergencies like the Ebola crisis, Lassa fever, monkey pox and the government has got to take drastic measures manage it.

He said the governments of Africa need to priotise research to prepare for outbreaks of infectious diseases, as well as promote public health.