15 October 2018

Liberia: Tolbert Nyenswah Makes 'Strong Case' for Liberia At Global Symposium On Health Research

Liverpool, England — Cllr. Tolbert G. Nyenswah, Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, has made a strong case for Liberia's Health System at the 5th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, which is taking place in Liverpool, England, the United Kingdom.

The symposium, which began on October 8 will ends on 12 October 2018, is held under the theme Advancing Health Systems for All in the SDG ERA.

The 5th Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (hsr2018) is organized by Health Systems Global.

Speaking on the topic "Multisectoral transnational strategies to progress for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): establishing a dialogue between Europe and Africa," Cllr. Nyenswah highlighted the progress made in rebuilding the country's health system.

He said some of the progresses include building resilience in epidemic preparedness and response, post-Ebola, through the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in collaborating with the Ministry of Health (MOH).

The Institute is committed to promoting healthy outcomes, by preventing, rapidly detecting and controlling public health threats, through evidence-based research and expertise, he said.

Meanwhile, Professor Asha George, Chair of Health Systems Global said as the world remains threatened by climate change, faltering aid commitments, and tightening of borders, the SDGs signifies that human progress relies on action from all sectors.

Said George: "It is not just about working in health. It's also about tackling pollution, supporting refugees, and building and maintaining public infrastructure. There is a need for health systems to look beyond the provision of care to address challenges such as emerging infections, chronic conditions, and the mass movement of people. Such progress requires new ways of working across disease programs and across sectors, and new mechanisms of governance to support this".

Using the most recent yellow fever outbreak in Grand Kru County and the meningococcal disease outbreaks in Sinoe and Lofa in 2017 as case studies, the NPHIL Director General outlined how Liberia is "10 times more prepared than it was before the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak."

The outbreak infected 11,000 Liberians, of which, almost 5000 died, and Cllr. Nyenswah stressed that this preparedness must be sustained.

NPHIL confirmed a case of yellow fever in Grand Kru County when a 2-year old of Farina Town, Barclayville Health District was tested positive.

Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease, transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Seven yellow fever epidemics have been recorded in Liberia (2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2018), with a total of 14 confirmed cases in nine counties.

Liberia is among the high-risk countries in Africa's Yellow Fever Belt, which comprises all African countries except those in north and southern Africa.

The Symptoms include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

Although yellow fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease like Ebola, however, it is not transmitted through body contact or body fluids like Ebola.

Field epidemiologists and surveillance officers, locally trained at NPHIL, rapidly detected the yellow fever case in Grand Kru County. In epidemiology, they are described as "shoe-leather epidemiologists."

Grand Kru County Health Team (CHT) and the national incident management system (IMS) setup to deal with the situation rapidly initiated the response.

Specimens were collected and quickly transported to the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL) in Liberia, which we have been strengthening, by building technical competence over the last 2 years. The specimens were tested and confirmed positive by NPHRL. No deaths or new cases have since been reported.

Most importantly, the rapid response initiatives averted hundreds of new cases and deaths in a "very remote" and "hard-to-reach" district. A targeted vaccination campaign, active case search, risk assessment, vector control and social mobilization, are amongst the strategies being implemented.

Dr. Augustine N. Fannieh, Grand Kru County Health Officer, says his team is working under extreme difficulties and terrain in getting the job done, adding that their committed leadership is exemplary.

Nyenswah lauded the tea, saying, "This is exactly why the Public Health Institute was established... to prevent disease, detect them quickly when they occur and respond rapidly with effective interventions, to avoid disruption of the public health system and economic activities in the country and sub-regional."

He acknowledged international partners working closely with NPHIL, Ministry of Health, World Health Organization (WHO), Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Africa Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USAID, Dept. of Defense, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Bank Group (WBG).

Mr. Nyenswah indicated that in the past 19 months, NPHIL has leveraged these partnerships to mobilize financial and technical resources that trained over 200 field epidemiologists, currently deployed in 93 health districts in Liberia.

The NPHRL was reinvigorated and can now test for over 11 pathogens of public health importance. He noted that a state-of-the-act public health infrastructure and reference laboratory is being built in Monrovia, as well as, a regional reference laboratory in Gbarnga, Bong County.

Both are being built and will be fully equipped and furnished by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Liberians will be trained in facilities and infrastructure management, specifically to manage these facilities.

Epidemics have no borders, because of our recent past we are monitoring 24/7 the epidemiological situation in provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We are concerned and in solidarity with our fellow Africans.

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