In recent years, 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases have originated in animals or animal products. These disease outbreaks and public health crises have taken thousands of lives, harmed livelihoods, and severely impacted national, regional and global industries and economies.
The Ebola Virus Disease and the Zika Virus impacted not only health but also food security and economic stability of nations. For instance, the Ebola outbreak cost Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone an estimated US$600 million in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while bird flu has cost the world tens of billions of dollars since the past decade.
Recently, Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Wildlife from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries gathered in Dakar, Senegal, to renew their commitment to the prevention and early response to public health threats across the region. The ministers from Nigeria and 15 other countries pledged their commitment to implement the “One Health” approach within and across countries.
“One Health” is an approach that calls on policymakers and health practitioners to consider the inextricable link between human, animal and environmental health when designing public health systems, research and programmes.
Timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the first ever Ebola Virus Disease case in the region, the conference – hosted by the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO) and the ECOWAS Commission in collaboration with other international partners – has since become the strongest political commitment to the “One Health” initiative in West Africa to date.
This latest move by West Africa is a critical step toward implementing the World Health Organisation’s Regional Strategy on Health Security and Emergencies 2016-2020, which was agreed upon in August 2016 at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
By taking an integrated approach to public health, communities and countries can identify outbreaks in animals before they spread to humans. This requires strong health systems and coordinated response to control the spread of diseases that affect animals and humans.
It is expected that this newfound commitment will help bolster the regional coordination required to deal with future disease outbreaks.
The creation of a framework that will help countries within the West African region work together across sectors and borders to ensure effective integration of human, animal and environmental health efforts is commendable. Nigeria and other countries within the West African region can now conduct joint preparedness and response planning, which will help manage outbreaks before they become national and international crises.
All member-nations must strive to abide by the agreement to carry out national risk assessments and set up effective alert mechanisms for both common and emerging disease outbreaks within their national jurisdictions.