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Managing pandemic outbreaks

Establish an enabling environment for prevention and preparedness

Kampala, Uganda | Patricia Akankwatsa | As COVID-19 continues to spread, in a given year there is a 2% chance of a new pandemic outbreak. Uganda was recently battling the Ebola Sudan pandemic.

Whenever there are these outbreaks, countries go into a panic as they find ways to prevent their spread and contain them.

The African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in partnership with the Government of Rwanda this week organised a three-day Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) under the theme; Preparedness for future Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Recovery: Africa at a Crossroad, where several African Heads of State, ministers of health, and leading researchers and scientists convened to discuss public health issues.

While speaking at one of the plenary sessions at the conference, Dr Daniel Kyabayinze the director of public health at the Ministry of Health, Uganda said that COVID-19 was a big lesson the country needs to learn from fast.

“There were lots of challenges faced which could have been avoided if we had harmonised our thinking about the whole situation but there were manufacturing wars among the manufacturers of the vaccines,” he said.

“We had money to purchase the vaccines but we couldn’t because of such wars. We ended up getting donations of different vaccines which created mistrust,” he said.

He added that Africans normally trust their local scientists and now there were vaccines from different manufacturers around the globe.

“We recently got Ebola Sudan trial vaccines. But who is going to take them? It is hard to convince people,” he said, adding that Africa should invest in vaccine manufacturing.

“This was the 8th Ebola outbreak in Uganda and we always know that it will come back. Why do we always wait for the outbreak and develop a vaccine? We should have vaccines ready and build trust before the pandemic,” he said.

Currently, vaccines are the world’s leading COVID-19 mitigation method.

Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, the Regional Emergency Director at World Health Organisation, said that it is possible to manufacture vaccines if we invest and have knowledge of the vaccines.

“It is very important to invest in biomedical science,” he said.

“One of the most important lessons of the pandemic is that all countries need to strengthen their public health systems to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.

“An advanced medical care system is not the same thing as a strong public health system. The other key lesson of the pandemic is the need for much stronger cooperation and collaboration, rather than the competition and confusion that marked the global response to COVID-19,” he said.

The aim of this second edition of the conference was to help advance Africa CDC’s mission to “strengthen Africa’s public health institutions’ capacities, capabilities, and partnerships to prevent, detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats based on science, evidence-based policy, and data-driven interventions and programs”.

The World Health Organisation keeps a look-out list of nine priority pathogens with pandemic potential; including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola, as well as ‘disease X’, which represents a possible, as-yet-undiscovered pathogen.

All nine deserve a full effort: development of several candidate vaccines through the animal models and early clinical testing stages, vialed and quality-tested vaccines that are ready for immediate testing in an outbreak, and stockpiling of enough doses to control the disease if the vaccine is shown to be efficacious.

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