Outbreaks of infectious diseases are not only a health concern but affect many sectors in the EAC. In the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic education, tourism and trade were among those that were hardest hit. The EAC Secretariat addresses this issue by applying the One Health approach in disease management.
This approach involves all areas of society that would be affected by a disease outbreak. It contributes to preventing and combating COVID-19 and to mitigating its impact. “In an effort to establish and train an urgently needed One Health workforce, the EAC Secretariat with support from universities in all EAC Partner States and from the German Government developed a regional, generic, interdisciplinary postgraduate course on “Pandemic Preparedness with a One Health Approach (PPOH)”, explains Hon. Christophe Bazivamo, Deputy Secretary General Productive and Social Sectors. “The curriculum will enable these experts to consider the needs of various stakeholders stronger, when mitigating the impact of disease outbreaks like COVID-19”.
PPOH is a short innovative, professional and interdisciplinary course for key personnel and future experts in pandemic preparedness and management. “It is based on lessons learnt from past threats, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014-2016, which showed that a multisectoral response including resource mobilisation and coordination is significant for success”, says Timothy Wesonga. He is the Regional Pandemic Preparedness and One Health Advisor in EAC-GIZ’s Support to Pandemic Preparedness in the EAC region (PanPrep) project that supports the EAC Secretariat in its coordinating and advisory role for the Partner States in pandemic preparedness.
The purpose of the course is to provide critical knowledge and skills to diverse potential responders to infectious diseases whenever and wherever they occur in East Africa. The 13 modules of the short course introduce the students to various aspects of disease outbreaks, such as instruments for and governance of prevention and control and draw their attention to the impact on sectors like agriculture, tourism and wildlife or trade. The modules look at ecosystem health and climate change as critical causes for outbreaks and emphasise the engagement of communities in prevention and response.
The two-week course was successfully piloted in Kenya at Egerton University in cooperation with Moi University in late 2020. The 25 trainees all had backgrounds in human, public, animal and environmental health, in health informatics and pharmacy, natural resources, education and agriculture, community development, nutrition and food safety as well as public administration among others. They came from ministries, universities, non-governmental organisations and research. More than half of them were women. The students originated from all six Partner States and the lecturers represented 4 of the EAC Partner States. Through the exchange of experiences across sectors and professions and joint learning the course also contributed to regional integration.
Dr Juliet Kiguli of Makerere University pointed out that “the pandemic preparedness course took place at an opportune time when there was the COVID-19 outbreak. It helped equip participants from sub Saharan African countries with skills of One Health and emphasises the benefits of North and South partnerships, like the one between the University of Heidelberg and the East African universities of Egerton, Moi and Makerere”.
A second pilot is scheduled for 2021 at Makerere University in Uganda, after which both courses will be evaluated externally and – if necessary - adapted to fully meet the needs and expectations of the trainees and of the job market. Based on the high demand for the course in the region (122 students applied for the first pilot), the EAC Secretariat and PanPrep consider developing it into a full Diploma or Master course. “The current pandemic has provided so much valuable input and so many lessons learned”, stresses PanPrep Project Manager Dr Irene Lukassowitz, “they should be included in the curriculum to the benefit of the EAC region and beyond.”