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Mulwanda urges SADC to strengthen collaborations

PERMANENT secretary in charge of health services Dr Jabbin Mulwanda has implored the Southern African Development Community to strengthen collaboration among member countries to enable the attainment of Universal Health Coverage and public health security in the region. Dr Mulwanda said the countries should strengthen existing public health institutes and establish the institutes for those that do not have.

He said once established, public health institutes would be mandated to effectively escalate preparedness activities that include intensified active surveillance and disease intelligence. Dr Mulwanda said the institutes would also be mandated to prevent, respond and control; comprehensive risk assessment, place rapid response teams on alert and resource mobilisation. He was speaking at the just ended joint SADC Ministers of Health and Ministers of HIV and AIDS meeting in Windhoek, Namibia.

The objective of the indaba was to enable ministers provide a collective oversight on the implementation of the regional health agenda as guided by the SADC Protocol on Health, the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan and the SADC Health Policy. Other areas of discussion and decision-making were around implementation of the Strengthening of Emergency & Essential Surgical, Obstetric and Anaesthesia Care as a component of Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage (UHC), the Regional Nutrition Work plan; Emerging and Re-emerging Zoonotic Diseases; Elimination of Measles in the SADC Region; Malaria Control and Elimination; End Tuberculosis (TB) Epidemic; implementation of HIV and AIDS interventions; implementation of the SADC HIV and AIDS Cross Border Initiative (CBI); and the implementation of the SADC Pooled Procurement Services were other areas of discussion at the meeting.

Dr Mulwanda emphasised that although all members subscribed to the International Health Regulations (IHR), most countries in the region had weak indicators of the IHR (2005) core competencies. He urged the countries to implement the core competencies with regards to the IHR in order to timely achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensure progress towards Universal Health Coverage across the continuum of care through an Integrated Primary Health Care approach.

Recalling the outbreaks in the last two years in the SADC region which included cholera, listeriosis and Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and the 2014 West Africa EVD outbreak, Dr Mulwanda prodded the Committee of Ministers for Health to support the member country in strengthening epidemic preparedness, prevention, control and response (EPR) capacities within and between member States.
He encouraged countries to have a focal structure that would enhance EPR and strengthen surveillance and disease intelligence in a coordinated manner.

Botswana health minister Dr Alfred Madigele commended Zambia on her work through the Southern Africa Regional Collaborating Centre and recommended that all member countries support this structure and cause. Although vaccination is endorsed as a key strategy to control and eliminate vaccine preventable diseases, Zambia recognises that the vaccine preventable disease, in particular measles, had taken longer than envisaged with retrogress in some Member States. Member States agreed that it was important to improve the coverage rates of existing vaccinations and that countries incorporate the use of EBV vaccines in outbreak setups.

Member States agreed that cross-border collaboration was key in prevention and control of epidemics, achievement of elimination and eradication goals among other strategies. The region has scored important milestones through cross-border collaboration such as the SADC HIV and AIDS Cross-Border Initiative (CBI) which has set up wellness centres at borders; the Elimination 8 (E8) initiative to eliminate malaria following the Windhoek declaration on malaria elimination.

On the sidelines of the meeting, was the E8 indaba that focused on registering the progress made so far in the malaria elimination initiative in 8 SADC countries that include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Noted in the meeting was Zambia’s great progress in its elimination strategy, reducing the incidence and mortality rates caused by malaria over the period 2016 to 2018. Zambia supported decisions on the SADC protocol on health, the Strengthening of Emergency & Essential Surgical, Obstetric and Anaesthesia Care as a component of Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage.

According to the ministry’s head of media relations Stanslous Ngosa, Zambia had made important strides in this important aspect.

The Zambian team was headed by Dr Mulwanda, supported by director health promotion environment and social determinants Dr Abel Kabalo, National Malaria Elimination center representative Jacob Chirwa and Head Information Systems at the Zambia National Public Health Institute and focal point for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Southern Africa Regional Collaborating Centre Mazyanga Mazaba Liwewe.

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