June 27th, 2024

EAC Tests Activation of Regional Rapid Response Mechanism to Infectious Disease Outbreaks (GIZ)

On 20 June 2024, the EAC Secretariat, together with EAC Partner States and other technical partners, concluded a table-top simulation exercise (TTX) to test activation of the recently established regional rapidly deployable expert pool. The expert pool has been set up since 2020 based on the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in 2014/15 in West Africa as well as other infectious disease outbreaks in the EAC to ensure a timely regional response to disease outbreaks.

A TTX is a facilitated discussion in a low-stress environment where participants meet to discuss their roles during an emergency and to practice, evaluate, and identify areas for improvement in their responses to a particular scenario.

The exercise brought together more than 50 experts from the health, environment, and livestock sectors in charge of emergency preparedness and response in the EAC Partner States, as well as the EAC Secretariat, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, and the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG), who jointly simulated a response to a cross-border Ebola virus outbreak in the EAC region.

The key objective of this TTX was to identify strengths and areas of improvement for collaboration and coordination at the national, regional, and continental levels in an outbreak scenario and to develop a roadmap, including recommendations on how to integrate the EAC rapidly deployable expert pool and the African Health Volunteers Corps & Strengthening and Utilizing Response Groups for Emergencies (AVoHC-SURGE) initiative to allow for joint planning, deployments, and capacity development. This is thought to facilitate a rapid response to infectious disease outbreaks at the regional and continental levels.

Dr Eric Nzeyimana, Principal Health Officer at the EAC Secretariat, reiterated, “By completing the ongoing EAC simulation exercise, using the lessons learned and recommendations, and working with our partners, we make sure that the EAC region is better prepared for outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics in the future.”

The simulation exercise was part of a three-day workshop that commenced with joint training conducted by the Africa CDC and WHO AFRO. The training aimed at strengthening capacities and knowledge among Partner States’ and EAC experts in relation to regional and continental guidelines and mechanisms in place for rapid response, centred around the AVoHC-SURGE initiative, implemented across the continent.

Speaking during the training, Dr Radjabu Bigirimana, AVoHC Lead at the Africa CDC, highlighted the mutual benefits of the close collaboration between the EAC Secretariat and the Africa CDC through the AVoHC-SURGE initiative: “A collaboration framework is under development that will allow us to join forces in outbreak response through joint rostering of experts, capacity building, and deployments inside the EAC and on the continent,” he noted.

The meeting further noted that, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, in more recent years, the EAC has experienced numerous outbreaks of infectious diseases and other events of public health concern, such as droughts, landslides, and floods. In the last two years alone, East Africa has had several disease outbreaks, such as cholera, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus disease, Ebola, and Monkey Pox.  These outbreaks have reinforced the need to enhance public health emergency capacities using a One Health approach, including human health, the environment, agriculture, and livestock sectors, amongst others.

To better prepare for public health emergencies, the EAC Secretariat, with the support of the GIZ, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and other technical partners such as the Africa CDC and WHO Regional Office for Africa over the past years have supported the establishment and rollout of the EAC rapidly deployable expert pool, comprised of emergency preparedness and response experts from relevant sectors of the EAC Partner States.

Dr Arisekola Ademola Jinadu, Technical Officer, IHR Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, reminded participants of the importance of following up on the outcomes and recommendations of the simulation exercise at all levels to inform other ongoing preparedness and response efforts.

Find more information on EAC-GIZ support for Pandemic Preparedness and One Health here.