Plans are moving forward to establish a subregional body for the co-ordination of health issues for the Economic Community of Central African States. File picture: World Health Organisation
Plans are moving forward to establish a subregional body for the co-ordination of health issues for the Economic Community of Central African States. File picture: World Health Organisation

A Central African health organisation on the cards

By Kapinga Yvette Ngandu Time of article published Apr 18, 2021

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Like all other parts of the world, the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas) has been affected by the Covid-19 since March 6, last year and all 11 member countries had registered their first cases by April 6, 2020.

In addition to a number of steps taken by Eccas, plans are also moving forward to establish a subregional body for the co-ordination of health issues in Eccas.

One year later, as at April 5, a total of 178022 cases have been confirmed in the Eccas subregion, including 3 011 deaths. This situation makes this pandemic one of the deadliest of the century worldwide, especially given its socio-economic impact on our countries.

The situation with Covid-19 at the global level remains alarming, with waves of new contaminations observed since the beginning of the year. Moreover, the discovery of new highly contagious variants of the virus across the world worsens the situation and drains national, regional and collective response capacities.

As a contribution to the response against Covid-19, various Eccas organs were mobilised for the following actions:

Development of a regional response plan: In March last year, the Eccas Commission developed a holistic multi-sectoral situational analysis paper on the impact of Covid-19 on cross-cutting issues, as well as a response strategy against the pandemic, which revolves around four strategic axes, including prevention of transmission, deaths or case management; mitigating the social, economic and security effects associated with Covid-19, and preventing cross-border transmission.

The Eccas Ministerial Meeting on Health held virtually on June 24 last year allowed for the establishment of a common and effective strategy to deal with the pandemic. Following the meeting of experts, which examined in advance the key essential points of this global strategy to enable the Central Africa subregion to better face the pandemic and to cope with its effects, the member state health ministers validated the strategy.

The subregional pandemic response strategy was adopted during the 17th Ordinary Session of the Eccas Conference of Heads of State and Government held on July 30.

As part of its efforts to monitor the implementation of the regional response plan, the Eccas Commission has put in place a technical Health Task Force, with the support of experts of the Regional Diseases Surveillance System Enhancement in Central Africa (Redisse IV) Project, which regularly analyses monthly trends for cases and deaths due to Covid-19 in the Eccas subregion, with proposals for action.

The regional pandemic surveillance has prompted the Eccas Commission to deploy its technical support teams to the Republic of Angola first, cognisant that this country had not yet reached the first peak at the beginning of October.

It is in this context, therefore, that a statutory technical support mission of Eccas was organised and carried out in Angola in November.

As part of the Eccas Border Support Project, Eccas received funding from GiZ to support preventive actions against Covid-19 at the borders of eight countries in the Eccas subregion. This project also intervenes within the framework of the resolution of border conflicts which have been accentuated by the occurrence of Covid-19.

Planned actions: Vaccination against Covid-19 appears to be the long-term solution. Currently, several countries, including those in the Eccas subregion, have started vaccinating their populations, starting with those with high risks.

However, to ensure vaccine efficacy at the community level, synchronisation of the approach in all the countries of the subregion is required.

In this context, the Eccas Commission will convene a meeting of ministers responsible for health in Eccas member states to discuss the vaccine strategy with a view to synchronising vaccination against Covid-19 in the subregion.

Synchronisation of vaccination between countries will build trust between them and promote the return to normal exchanges between countries and contribute to prevention of possible conflicts.

The way forward: In addition to the vaccination strategy, the pandemic has exposed the existing health gaps and challenges in the subregion, and has especially underscored the importance of setting up a regional health co-ordination structure in Central Africa – the Organisation for Health in Central African Subregion, which member states had committed to establish a decade ago.

The new leadership of the Eccas Commission is intent on correcting this gap by expediting the process of implementing this long-standing Eccas decision. Setting up its own regional health organisation will allow the commission to help its member countries respond effectively to epidemics/ pandemics, as well as to other health issues in the subregion, similar to Ecowas.

To date, a tripartite World Health Organization (WHO)-Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and Eccas commission has been formed to support this process.

In addition, in the context of involving existing health institutions in the Eccas subregion, a joint mission of Eccas and the WHO is under way to meet and discuss with the team of the Organisation of Co-ordination and Co-operation for the fight against major Endemic Diseases in Central Africa (OCEAC) covering six countries in Central Africa.

* Kapinga Yvette Ngandu is the Commissioner for Gender, Human and Social Development Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) - www.accord.org.za

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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