‘ECOWAS cen­tre will im­prove Nige­ria’s pub­lic health in­vest­ments’

Prof. Ab­dul­salami Na­sidi is the Act­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor of the ECOWAS Re­gional Cen­tre for Surveil­lance and Dis­ease Con­trol (RCDC), and also the Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tor, Nige­ria Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (NCDC). In this in­ter­view, he speaks on the coun­try’

Daily Trust - - HEALTH - By Ojoma Akor

What the level of Nige­ria’s pre­pared­ness in re­spond­ing to emerging and re­merg­ing dis­eases?

is

We de­cided to im­prove our level of pre­pared­ness after the pan­demic flu and the Ebola out­break, what we call post pan­demic pre­pared­ness plan to keep Nige­ria at the level of be­ing pre­pared to at least re­spond quickly, and a good ex­am­ple is the Lassa fever emer­gency.

Im­me­di­ately Lassa fever came, we used all we had in fight­ing it and all the other emer­gen­cies - even in­fluenza, po­lio and Ebola. So to some ex­tent we have the min­i­mum things re­quired to be pre­pared, but of course we have many chal­lenges and we need more to be per­fect.

Is Nige­ria at risk of the Zika virus?

Yes.Ev­ery coun­try in the African con­ti­nent is at risk,be­cause in the last two months, two coun­tries recorded in­fec­tions by the virus - they are Guinea Bissau and Carpe Verde.So this means that West Africa in par­tic­u­lar is at high­est risk.

What is the cen­tre do­ing to strengthen surveil­lance against dis­eases?

First and fore­most, we are in­creas­ing the ca­pac­ity of the man­power do­ing the surveil­lance; train­ing them, putting them into sys­tems and im­prov­ing our ties with the state epi­demi­ol­o­gists.

We now have an an­nual dis­ease surveil­lance net­work of­fi­cers’ meet­ing which is also one of the mech­a­nisms to re­ally im­prove it.

We are also im­prov­ing our re­port­ing system on weekly and monthly bases.

We have also de­vel­oped some soft­ware for dis­ease re­port­ing and no­ti­fi­ca­tion. We have col­lab­o­rated with the pri­vate sec­tor and health fa­cil­i­ties that were not re­port­ing be­fore; they are now re­port­ing and do­ing it well.So this is con­tribut­ing to im­prov­ing dis­ease surveil­lance in the coun­try.

Tell us about the NCDC ref­er­ence lab in Gadua, Abuja. How will it im­pact on the lives of Nige­ri­ans?

The ref­er­ence lab­o­ra­tory in Gadua was estab­lished for po­lio im­mu­niza­tion but has now been ex­panded. It will provide us with the op­por­tu­nity to di­ag­nose quickly, what­ever is the cause of any health or dis­ease emer­gency.

It will help us to char­ac­ter­ize the cause - either virus or bac­te­ria - and know what we can use it for. For in­stance, char­ac­ter­ize it and use it to de­velop reagents and vac­cines.

It will also em­power us to provide train­ing sites for Nige­rian lab­o­ra­torists and also ex­tend to West African lab­o­ra­torists.

It will also help us to net­work all lab­o­ra­tory ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try, in the con­cept of emer­gency and in­ci­dent management system.

That means if you have, let say any cholera out­break in Og­badibo Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment of Benue State or Ohaz­ara Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment of Ebonyi State, you should be able to get it re­ported to the dis­ease surveil­lance unit and the lab­o­ra­tory will go into ac­tion. At the same time the in­ci­dent management will start work­ing, that is if it is con­firmed it is cholera, or if it is Ebola, you don’t have to wait.

You know, be­fore, they had to wait and keep wait­ing for the lab­o­ra­tory re­port and as you are wait­ing that bac­te­ria or virus is gain­ing ground.

In a nut­shell, the lab­o­ra­tory is em­pow­er­ing us to be well ahead of the pathogen and to re­spond faster.

The lab­o­ra­tory will be used by both the Nige­ria Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (NCDC) and the ECOWAS Re­gional Cen­tre for Surveil­lance and Dis­ease Con­trol.

The ECOWAS Re­gional Cen­tre for Surveil­lance and Dis­ease Con­trol started oper­a­tions in Nige­ria re­cently, how is it go­ing to ben­e­fit the coun­try?

It is go­ing to bring a lot of in­vest­ments into our pub­lic health. Be­cause we have part­ners, in­ter­na­tional pri­vate com­pa­nies that want to in­vest in pub­lic health in order to strengthen our health system.

So it will re­ally change and make our health system stronger and re­silient. It will also provide employment for Nige­ri­ans.

It will lab­o­ra­tory provide ca­pac­ity more and train­ing at a higher level and also make dis­ease de­tec­tion, pre­ven­tion and re­sponse within the whole re­gion much bet­ter.

For ex­am­ple,if there is out­break of Zika in Gam­bia we will not be sleep­ing here or wait­ing. We shall use this as a base to form re­gional rapid re­sponse teams. So it wouldn’t be a case of there is a fire in Sierra Leone, and Liberia is wait­ing. No, Liberia must form a team, Gam­bia must form a team and Guinea, be­cause they are all sur­rounded, and quickly go there and start fight­ing it as if it is in their coun­try.

Fi­nally, it will af­ford us op­por­tu­nity to net­work ev­ery­thing we are do­ing, like net­work­ing our lab­o­ra­tory ser­vices, and dis­eases surveil­lance in the re­gion, and then co­or­di­nate our re­sponse ac­tiv­i­ties.

The sit­ing of the RCDC here is an hon­our to Nige­ria be­cause we are given this on the ba­sis of our achieve­ments dur­ing the Ebola out­break and oth­ers like the Avian flu which we fought very well.

Sim­i­larly, it is also very rare that they will site such a cen­tre in a coun­try and then al­low a na­tional of that coun­try to head it. So by ap­point­ing me, it is like the 15 heads of state of the sub-re­gion have re­posed con­fi­dence in me and hon­oured me to do this job. They could have sent some­one from a fran­co­phone coun­try to come here and run it.

So it is also recog­ni­tion of my per­sonal role in the Ebola and other pan­demic flu con­trol ef­forts. You know, they hon­oured us for that job and I got a World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) hon­our,too, so it is recog­ni­tion for both the coun­try and me with my en­gage­ment as the head.

Prof. Ab­dul­salami Na­sidi

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