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WAHO calls for social behavioral change

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to control COVID-19 pandemic

The Director-General of the West Africa Health Organization or WAHO, Professor Stanley OKOLO, said it is within the power of ECOWAS Member States as individuals and groups to control the pandemic through social behavioral change, whilst awaiting availability of sufficient vaccine doses through international collaboration and ongoing discussions on establishing vaccine manufacturing facilities in the region.

He urged governments and stakeholders in West Africa to strengthen national health systems, and rebuild trust with the region’s populations without whom public health measures will fail.

 “WAHO is extremely grateful for the support of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS Member States, the Ministers of Health, and of our international partners, as we continue in solidarity on the march to regional integration through health. We still have a lot of work to do, but I believe that working together, we will succeed”, he said while addressing the 34th WAHO Day recently.

He said although the region has fared much better than predicted during the COVID-19 pandemic, weaknesses in its health systems have been exposed, including weaknesses in infrastructure, human resources, and laboratory capacity, in addition to deficits in the levels of community engagement required for effective disease control.

The WAHO director-general regretted that five years after the establishment of the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (ECOWAS RCSDC) the center is not yet fully operational due to bureaucratic delays in the long-running ECOWAS Institutional Reform program.

Professor OKOLO added that WAHO, therefore, continues to lead the region’s health security agenda in addition to all other burning health issues, such as malaria, non-communicable diseases, regional production of quality medicines, and universal health coverage.

He said as in other parts of the world, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating health, social and economic impact on the population of West Africa and that since its inception, WAHO has worked closely with all 15 Ministries of Health of ECOWAS Member States, the Africa Regional Office of WHO and key stakeholders, including more recently the Africa Centre for Disease Control, to drive its mandate of safeguarding and improving the health of the region’s citizens.

The 34th anniversary of the West Africa Health Organization was commemorated on 9 July 2021, with Professor OKOLO describing the past 18 months as the most challenging since the existence of the regional body.

However, he said despite recurrent disease outbreaks and epidemics that have challenged the fragile health systems of the region, WAHO has championed several health improvement programs including projects on reducing the number of women dying during childbirth and the number of children dying before the age of 5 years; projects on increasing local manufacture of high-quality drugs; and projects on strengthening the region’s disease surveillance, preparedness and response architecture to ensure that infectious disease outbreaks are detected early and responded to robustly.

He said during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, WAHO has led the regional response efforts by facilitating coordination, collaboration, and communication between Member States and between the region and international partners. We have provided over 100,000kg of critically needed medical materials such as laboratory diagnostic equipment and reagents, personal protective equipment (PPEs), and respiratory ventilators, to support Member States in their national efforts. Over 3000 healthcare personnel have been trained in various skills required for the COVID-19 response efforts in addition to targeted financial support to help Member States in specific areas of need, such as engagement of contact tracers or public health rapid response teams, or purchase of necessary equipment for surveillance or diagnosis.

“As we mark this year’s WAHO Day, therefore, it is important that we remember all our citizens that have died in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially healthcare workers that have paid the ultimate price with their lives whilst at the forefront of the response to this devastating pandemic. May the souls of all the departed rest in perfect peace.”

He said the day also provided an opportunity to reflect on the continuing challenges faced by the regional health body in trying to improve the health of the region’s population, adding that one lesson of the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic was the need for an agency under WAHO dedicated specifically to surveillance, preparation and response to the recurrent epidemics in the region.

Footnote

The West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) was established in 1987 but became fully operational in 2000 when the first Director-General was appointed. Over the years, WAHO has evolved to become a regional leader in health as it continues to deliver on its mandate as the Health Institution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Statement

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