Africa: High-Level Emergency Ministerial Meeting On Cholera Epidemics, Polio and Climate-Related Public Health Emergencies

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Lilongwe — The Ministers of Health and Ministers of Water and Sanitation, as well as their senior technical experts from 12 African Union Member States, attended the High-Level Emergency Ministerial meeting on Cholera Epidemics and Climate-Related Public Health Emergencies in Lilongwe, Malawi from 9th - 10th March 2023. The Ministers agreed on joint collaborative measures to combat the spread of cholera and ensure country preparedness and readiness for climate-change-related health emergencies.

Welcoming the delegates and officially opening the meeting, Vice President of Malawi, Rt Hon Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima, said that "it is widely said that "Diseases and Public Health Emergencies know no borders. Our convergence on Lilongwe today attests to the realization that we can only triumph if we work together as partners beyond our borders."

On the first day of the high-level Ministerial meeting, the technical experts from the 12 countries met and shared their experiences and various response efforts implemented to mitigate and control the spread of cholera. Additionally, key thematic areas discussed included strengthening cross-border collaborations, putting communities at the centre of preparedness and response plan, accelerating local manufacturing and access to cholera vaccines, and political commitments backed by adequate funding.

"This is the time to tighten our coordination, collaboration and communication; and renew the continental and global commitments in disease control and elimination, including Cholera," Dr Merawi Aragaw, Africa CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response Head of Division.

The high-level meeting culminated with a communique where Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe endorsed key measures to tackle the cholera outbreak and climate-related health challenges. These include the establishment of the Africa Elimination of Cholera Epidemics Coordination Task Force (AECECT), scaling-up cholera prevention and control through robust community engagement, strengthened surveillance and cholera vaccine availability through local production; enhanced water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services across countries through policies, access to safe drinking water and targeted social behavior change interventions; Addressing underlying drivers of outbreaks - climate change, conflict and beyond by reviewing national climate adaptation plans to have robust multisectoral plans on climate-sensitive health issues using One Health Approach, increasing investment on research and analysis on climate change impact on health, enforcement of environment management protocol and laws as well as incorporating economic indicators in social factors.

The importance of cross-border collaboration and timely information sharing in disease prevention and control was highly emphasized, and delegates concurred on developing a joint multi-country cross-border preparedness and response plan for harmonized and timely interventions as part of the key actions moving forward.

"We will continue to support all our Member States to strengthen their public health systems, enhance surveillance and diagnostic capabilities and facilitate the procurement of essential medical supplies. We have also been promoting scientific research and innovation to help develop and deploy effective diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines," said Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director of the Africa CDC, reiterating the critical role and mandate of Africa CDC in promoting partnership and collaboration among Member States to address emerging and endemic diseases and public health emergencies.

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