WHO logistician Cisse Ibrahima Sory sets up the new operational center. Photo courtesy of WHO/S. Saporito.
In response to continuing reports of new cases and deaths attributable to Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, WHO today activated a Sub-regional Outbreak Coordination Center in Conakry, Guinea.
“The center will act as a platform to consolidate and harmonize the technical support being provided to West African countries affected by the outbreak. It will also help to mobilize resources for the response,” says Dr. Francis Kasolo, director for disease prevention and control for the WHO African Region and head of the Coordination Centre. “Alongside national health authorities and WHO, other partner agencies involved in the Ebola response, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and technical partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), will also work from the center.”
The establishment of the center was requested by health ministers from 11 African countries at an emergency meeting convened by WHO in Accra, Ghana, July 2-3, 2014.
The Accra meeting identified critical challenges and gaps in the response: coordination, communications, cross-border collaboration, treatment of patients, contact tracing and community participation, human resources and financial support.
“Addressing these challenges in three countries will be far more efficient through a single coordination mechanism,” says Dr. Benido Impouma, WHO epidemiologist and the technical coordinator of the new Centre. “Finding and treating all Ebola patients and then tracing and observing the close contacts of these persons over a period of 21 days to ensure they have not been infected is a key to halting transmission. This can be only done with full community participation.”
As of July 12, 2014, the cumulative number of cases attributed to EVD in the three countries stands at 964, including 603 deaths.
The vast geographical spread of the outbreak requires enormous and robust response capacity and structures. As this is the first major EVD outbreak in West Africa, affected countries have to scale up their epidemic preparedness and response systems.
The Sub-regional Centre will be responsible for ensuring effective use and deployment of limited, but highly critical resources based on prioritization and agreed objectives. The organization and coordination of key support functions and field operations will move closer to outbreak areas, or ‘hot spots’.
In addition, the Sub-regional Centre will: ensure sufficient technical and operational support and resources to sustain response activities in the field, facilitate the coordination of GOARN partners and networks, prepare public communications materials and activities, engage in contingency planning, risk assessments, and scaling of operations as required, and secure an environment that enables effective and successful field operations; define operational periods to achieve agreed objectives and ensure the planning, coordination, and optimum use of limited resources, as well as continuity of action and management; direct human and material resources for: communications and social mobilization, investigation of alerts and new outbreaks, case finding and contact tracing, surveillance and data management, patient treatment and care, logistics, stockpiling, and movement of personal protective equipment to key locations; and provide technical guidance and resources, communications support, decision-making, and reporting for all field teams in the sub-region.