With support from the World Health Organization (WHO), South Sudan has developed and costed a National Action Plan for Health Security, which is a comprehensive, multisectoral blueprint to strengthen the country's core capabilities to manage health risks (as well as save lives and avoid interference to international trade and travel) during emergency situations, as required by the legally binding International Health Regulations (2005).
"Health security starts from ourselves as individuals, as family, as a community and as a society," says Dr Makur Matur Kariom, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, addressing the participants of the workshop. "We need to act fast to strengthen health systems and develop plans to make the country feel safe and contribute to the health security of the region."
In 2017, South Sudan carried out a Joint External Evaluation, which the International Health Regulations stipulate, to assess the country's capacities to prevent, detect and respond to public health events that could spread globally.
The Joint External Evaluation showed that South Sudan had demonstrated capacities for surveillance, reporting, immunization, and zoonotic disease control but had limited to no capacity for the rest of the 15 technical areas.
"The country continues to be at risk of infectious disease outbreaks and public health threats", said, Hon. Dr Martin Elia Lomoro, Minister of Cabinet Affairs. "It is our responsibility to keep the environment safe to prevent public health hazards".
The National Action Plan for Health Security responds to the gaps that the Joint External Evaluation assessed. The next step requires the reviewing and costing of the elements of that plan before they can be instituted or reformed, based on what the evaluation requires.
"Multisectoral consensus on priorities for health security is a crucial step for identifying resources from government as well as external sources to safeguard South Sudan by strengthening implementation of the IHR 2005", says Dr Makur.
Preparedness, the Government of South Sudan recognizes, is urgent. Over the past few years, South Sudan has experienced outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever and measles, among other infectious diseases. WHO currently classifies the risk of Ebola virus disease transmission into countries that share borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including South Sudan, as "very high". Ebola cases among persons who had travelled from the DRC were recently confirmed in Uganda, reinforcing the need for regional and global preparedness.
As a signatory to the International Health Regulations, South Sudan is committed to developing a robust, resilient and inclusive multisectoral health system.
"Investing in health security is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, it is the primary responsibility of the Government of South Sudan," says Dr Lomoro.
"Attaining and maintaining country IHR capacities are vital for preventing and mitigating the risk of public health threats", said Dr Guracha Guyo, the WHO Health Emergency Lead in South Sudan.
"The national action plan enables South Sudan to determine and address the country's health security priorities to prevent, detect and respond to public health events that could spread globally", says Dr Olu Olushayo, WHO Representative to South Sudan.
Hence it is important that we operationalize the plan through high-level multisectoral support and leadership, advocacy to develop long term robust, resilient and inclusive multisectoral health system while mobilizing resources to fill in gaps revealed through a Joint External Evaluation, added Dr Olu.
WHO will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the next steps are implemented as quickly as possible.
Under each of the 19 technical areas addressed by the JEE, specific activities were prioritized by a multi-sectoral group of stakeholders with realistic goals being set and informed by the current country context. Based on the diverse stakeholder consultations and engagement, the overall cost of implementing the plan for the next five years was derived and forms the basis for mobilizing requisite resources from Government and donors.
The development of the National Action Plan for Health Security is supported by 'Resolve to Save Lives'.