16 May 2012

Burkina Faso: Pandemic Influenza Table Top Exercise Begins

Bobo — Nearly 100 civilian and military representatives from seven African nations, the United States and three United Nations organizations met in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, May 14, 2012 for a weeklong exercise to conduct a baseline review of the current capability of the government of Burkina Faso to respond to a potential severe pandemic disaster.

The Burkina Faso Government Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise is hosted by the government of Burkina Faso, organized by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). The tabletop exercise will assist the government of Burkina Faso in assessing their pandemic disaster preparedness and response plan as well as identify and validate how the country's military can assist the civilian authorities in the "Whole of Government" pandemic disaster response.

"The organization of this exercise aims to reinforce the existing capacities, structures and actors that are responsible for disaster management in Burkina Faso, specifically civil protection in order to mobilize and engage responders, streamline the decision making process and identify the gaps in our plans," said Abel Toussaint Coulibaly, delegate minister, representing the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Security.

Special Assistant to the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, Brigadier General Stayce Harris, spoke about how "...health and security issues are closely linked. As a result, the U.S. Government has committed specific resources to helping our partner militaries in Africa."

Harris went on to say, "The role of Africa Command's Pandemic Response Program, as part of this USAID funded initiative, is to assist in strengthening African partner military nation's capacities to respond to a pandemic in support of civil authority national pandemic preparedness and response plans."

PRP is funded by USAID as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative. Implemented by the U.S. military, PRP is structured like a traditional USAID project with a focus on long-term sustainable results through the whole of government approach.

PRP's objectives are to train senior and mid-level military leaders, government agencies and international aid organizations in cooperative disaster management and humanitarian assistance situations with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness. It aims to ensure military, government agencies and international organizations in participating "pandemic preparedness" nations have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans and to conduct exercises to stress test the implementation of these plans and identify deficiencies.

"Pandemics are worldwide epidemics. They have happened before and are not fiction," said Colonel (Retired) Vincent Anami, director of Kenya's National Operations Center.

According to Anami, a pandemic in 1920 is reported to have killed 40 million people, but some estimates put the death toll as high as 100 million.

Anami went on to say that seasonal influenza viruses kill year approximately 500,000 people a year.

Harris reiterated U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. government's dedication to helping African partner nations build pandemic response capability. "As noted by Africa Command's deputy commander for Civil-Mil Activities, at our program introduction conference in 2009, 'Dealing with a pandemic, from planning to post operation phases, is a high priority for the United States Government.' Consequently, one of Africa Command's strategic objectives is 'assisting partner nations with protecting populations from deadly contagions.'"

The five session tabletop exercise is being closely monitored by the Burkina Faso government. The tabletop portion of the exercise began May 15 and will end on May 19.

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