WHO Country representative Dr Tigest Ketsela Mengestu raised the alert yesterday during official opening of a large scale cross border field simulation exercise (FSX)—a fictitious outbreak of Rift Valley Fever at the Namanga border post with Kenya.
Dr Mengestu said the Ebola outbreak in DRC has so far infected over 1,900 people and cause more than 1,300 deaths.
She said the EAC region needs to be prepared and ongoing efforts to operationalize national and regional contingency plans need to be strengthened by involving various sectors in the prevention, response and mitigation of health security risks, noting that using a One Health approach is essential.
"In this light, the regional EAC cross border field simulation exercise is a unique opportunity to test our collective public health preparedness and response capacities, clarify roles and responsibilities between different sectors and agencies and learn from each other," the representative stated.
Dr Mengestu un derlined that the exercise will help EAC countries to identify weakness and areas for further improvements in their response system and equally help them identify strengths that need to be sustained.
The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Ummy Mwalimu said cross border field simulations would help to assess pandemic preparedness status and to identify existing gaps that compromise their efficiency in prevention, response and mitigation.
The minister said the field simulation exercise is being convened at time when the Ebola epidemic in DRC stands at the threshold of EAC and presents a major challenge to the health and socio-economic wellbeing of the people of East Africa.
"The outcomes will allow us to facilitate practical corrective actions at all levels," she said.
A clear emergency structure for outbreak of an epidemic is targeted, and the exercise will show if it is user friendly in an outbreak scenario and if the standard operating procedures developed between the EAC Secretariat and other stakeholders provide enough information for a targeted response.
She said disease has always been a stumbling block to human progress and continues to foment massive loss of lives and livelihoods, disrupting economic and social activities across the world.
"The EAC region has experienced outbreak of Ebola and several chronic fevers inclding Rift Valley, Marburg and Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic fever, along with cholera, polio and plague among other health crises in the past few years.
EAC Deputy Secretary General Christopher Bazivamo said that with support from Germany through the German Development bank(KfW) and the Bernard Notch Institute of Tropical Medicine(BNITM), EAC countries had enhanced the laboratory capacities to diagnose highly pathogenic organisms with 24 experts specially trained for the purpose, also acquiring nine biosafety level three mobile laboratories for sustained response.
"In future,oOutbreaks should be detected early and a timely response is expected with use of these facilities," he said.
Bazivamo noted that as of last week, more than 2,030 people had been infected and more than 1,360 had died in DRC, making it the second largest outbreak of Ebola the world had seen.
More than 250 people attended the ceremony at at the Namanga One Stop border post (OSBP), including active participants from Kenya and Tanzania.