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The World Health Organization (WHO) and partner organizations meeting in Brazzaville have agreed on a range of core actions to support countries unaffected by Ebola in strengthening their preparedness in the event of an outbreak. Building on national and international existing preparedness efforts, a set of tools is being developed to help any country to intensify and accelerate their readiness.
One of these tools is a comprehensive checklist of core principles, standards, capacities and practices, which all countries should have or meet. The checklist can be used by countries to assess their level of preparedness, guide their efforts to strengthen themselves and to request assistance. Items on the checklist include infection prevention control, contact tracing, case management, surveillance, laboratory capacity, safe burial, public awareness and community engagement and national legislation and regulation to support country readiness.
“While we rightly focus on stopping the outbreak in affected countries, we should not forget that all other countries are at risk, albeit at varying levels,” says WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo. “This meeting has served our purpose to plan support to unaffected countries, especially priority ones, to be prepared and be ready to detect and respond to any Ebola virus disease if it occurs.”
The initial focus of support by WHO and partners will be on highest priority countries - Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal - followed by high priority countries – Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Togo. Criteria used to prioritize countries include geographical proximity to affected countries, trade and migration patterns and strength of health systems.
There are other ongoing epidemics of Ebola virus disease in Democratic Republic of Congo and Marburg hemorrhagic fever in Uganda. Given the history of epidemics in the Central Africa region, coun-tries sharing borders with these States should be supported to strengthen their preparedness.
In his remarks, the WHO assistant director-general for health and security, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, spoke of the sense of urgency that had characterized this and other all high-level meetings on Ebola that he had attended in the recent past. “At all levels, the need or call has been for action from all concerned, action to do more to stop the spread of the disease. The results of this meeting will allow us to consolidate and harmonize our support, allow for targeted and immediate actions in unaffected countries, while maintaining a high technical public health standard approach.”
Also developed by the meeting is a framework to measure the key milestones and mutual accountability for assessment by international partners and countries. The tools are being reviewed by experts and will be made publicly available shortly.
Participants agreed that the immediate next step should be the organization of country visits to urgently increase additional support.
The meeting, which took place Oct. 8-10, 2014, was attended by a range of international development partners involved in the Ebola response efforts.