Health in Africa

Make pandemic preparedness in Africa affordable: WHO

New regional strategy prepared by UN body on disease surveillance and response says investing in pandemic preparedness is an affordable public health good for Africa

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 19 August 2019
The Sixty-ninth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa began in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo on August 19, 2019. Ahead of the meet, a document has asked African governments to make pandemic preparedness more affordable. Photo: Nicole Sarkis/@nicsarkis/Twitter

The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked African countries to make ‘pandemic preparedness’ more affordable for people on the continent in a new strategy document.

Pandemic preparedness in Africa is estimated to cost $2.5 – 3.5 per person annually according to the Regional Strategy for Integrated Disease Surveillance And Response (IDSR strategy), prepared by the WHO.

A pandemic is an epidemic (an outbreak of an infectious disease) that spreads worldwide or at least across a large region.

Preparedness for pandemics refers to health and non-health interventions, capabilities, and capacities at the levels of community, country, regional, and global levels.

Their purpose is to prevent, detect, contain and respond to the spread of disease and other hazards, mitigating social disruptions and limiting risks to international travel and trade.

Pandemics can be very disruptive. Even a moderately severe pandemic could have a potential global economic impact of $500 billion, or 0.6 per cent of global income. 

In contrast, the cost of adequately preparing for a global pandemic is estimated at $4.5 billion, or less than $1 per person per year. 

Unfortunately, according to the WHO, most countries are grossly underprepared for — and underinvested in — infrastructure designed to mitigate a pandemic crisis. 

Which also means that the pandemic preparedness per person per year in Africa is expensive rather than affordable.

That is why, investing in pandemic preparedness is an affordable public health good for Africa, said the IDSR strategy document.

The document, which has been accessed by Down to Earth will be presented to the Regional Committee For Africa for review at the five days-long WHO African regional meeting which begins on August 19, 2019, in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo.  

Why Africa?

All of the 47 member states within the WHO’s African Region are at risk of health security threats. Infectious diseases account for 80 per cent of over 100 public health emergencies reported annually by these states.  Emerging and re-emerging pathogens are of particular concern.

For example, the recent outbreak of Ebola in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) killed 1,808 people out of 2,765 confirmed cases. 

This outbreak of Ebola, which started in August last year, is the second largest in history. Along with Ebola, Measles too has killed 2,758 people in the DRC since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year.  

The risk of emerging infectious diseases has increased due to the growth of cross-border and international travel, increasing human population density and the growth of informal settlements.

The risks have increased further due to climate change, changes in the way humans and wild animals interact and changes in trade and livestock farming

The IDSR strategy document says every country on the African continent is at risk of pandemics and national governments would be primarily responsible for successful disease surveillance and response

It asks member states to commit to build or sustain robust public health surveillance and resilient health systems.

WHO has also asked countries to priorities funding requirements, adopt innovations in technology such as mobile telephone-health approaches, eLearning and eTeaching.  

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