Health ministers from member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have issued joint regional preparedness strategies for the prevention, early detection and control of the coronavirus outbreak.
A communiqué issued at the end of the one-day meeting of ECOWAS health ministers, organised by the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), charged member countries to implement robust measures to assure availability of critical medical supplies, including laboratory materials and personal protective equipment in the region.
The meeting at Bamako, the capital of Mali, last Friday was aimed to “promote a joint initiative to prevent the introduction of the disease through the establishment of different mechanisms, strategies and raising awareness at the national and sub-regional level on how to deal with this scourge.”
The communiqué, dated February 14, 2020, called for enhanced surveillance and management measures for Covid-19, particularly at entry points – air, land and sea.
It also called for strengthened co-ordination, communication and collaboration amongst member states in preparedness for Covid-19 epidemic, including cross-border collaboration.
The Health Minister emphasised the need to step up communication to ensure that the public receives accurate, appropriate and timely information regarding the epidemic.
“Urgently strengthen critical national capacities for diagnosing and managing cases. Develop a strategic costed regional preparedness plan based on member states’ priorities for governments, partners, and the private sector to support,” it added.
The communiqué called on countries to promote multi-sectoral national efforts using one-health approach to maximise impact.
ECOWAS countries were urged to work closely with the relevant authorities of national governments and the Chinese government to monitor and assure the health situation of our citizens resident in China.
Addressing the meeting earlier, Director of WAHO, Prof Stanley Okolo announced that all suspected cases of coronavirus reported in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria so far were confirmed to be negative after isolation, surveillance and comprehensive tests.
He listed the actions taken by his organisation, including the creation of ECOWAS’ Regional Centre for Disease Surveillance and Control, the establishment of national public health institutions in all member states, internationally agreed best practices at the regional level, as well as the strengthening of regional reference laboratories, networked to cover the region’s biological diagnostic needs and the creation and regular upgrading of a team for regional response to epidemics.
Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cissé said the recent health crisis in West Africa caused by the Ebola virus disease has caused about 28,000 cases with 11,000 deaths.
“In Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Mali, this epidemic has not only demonstrated the limitations of our surveillance systems, but has also highlighted the need for collaboration between our countries in managing health problems,” he said.
He noted that the pooling of multi-sector and multidisciplinary experience appears to be an imperative for improving the health and safety of populations because, “they will undoubtedly enable the establishment of cross-border mechanisms for the benefit of our people”.
China’s ambassador to Mali, Zhu Liying said “when the Chinese government became aware of the seriousness of the problem, it took extraordinary measures.
“For example, he said, “it closed the city of Wuhan with its 12 million population, and Hubei province with 60 million people. It built two specialized hospitals with a total capacity of 2,500 beds in record time”.
The Malian Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Michel Sidibé, said ECOWAS, which has about 380 million people, does not even have three laboratories that can take care of patients effectively if there are such cases.
The Minister said the meeting had been successful and countries have resolved to co-operate to combat the virus.
“Today, we are leaving here really satisfied because we are going to develop plans, of course, national responses that already exist in several cases; we are going to try to consolidate them into plans that would really enable us to have a coherent approach that could be financed at the regional level.”