The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014, and went on to become the largest and deadliest in the history of the virus. The epidemic spread between countries and involved major urban areas as well as rural ones.
The severity and complexity of the outbreak in Africa highlighted the importance of effective disease detection and response. Moreover, the management of the crisis emphasised the need to improve health security, which is defined as ‘action to provide individuals in all countries with access to essential health care’.
Since the Ebola crisis, Africa has worked to address health security, seeing improvements in investments in infrastructure and healthcare systems, and importantly, the strengthening of local capacities.
In January 2017 the Africa Centres for Disease and Prevention (Africa CDC) was launched as a response to the Ebola outbreak. The initiative aims to aid African Member States to respond to public health emergencies. Although the Africa CDC is part of a collaborative, international network of public health, being Africa owned and based, it is uniquely positioned to tackle the health of the continent. Moving forward from the Ebola crisis, the Africa CDC will work to prevent such outbreaks, through partnerships in both science and policy.
In addition, health experts on the continent are working to improve the early detection of outbreaks of disease by strengthening laboratory networks. The collaborative role of local and national laboratories is critical in preventing the rise of new global health threats, and ensuring that disease testing reaches rural communities is a priority.
Furthermore, the strengthening of local capacities is also key to preventing disease outbreaks. By focusing on improving healthcare systems at a grassroots level on the continent, response capacity, efficiency and effectiveness will increase. Country leadership and political commitment to health as a political and security issue will prove necessary, as strengthening local capacities and health systems will happen as a result of domestic financing.
Cooperation between Africa and developed countries and institutions will also prove essential to improving health security on the continent. In this regard, many African countries have already taken steps forward. In July 2017, a declaration signed by African heads of state and government committed to international collaboration between the Africa CDC, the African Union Commission and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in order to ‘accelerate implementation of the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR)’.
In January 2016, the WHO declared the last Ebola affected country to be free of the virus. Since then, much work has been done on the continent to increase health security and disease prevention, detection and response frameworks. Collaborations between heads of states and larger international health organisations are also progressing, and across the continent health care systems at a local level are being consolidated.
Photo: UNMEER/Martine Perret