Today 9 July 2021, the West Africa Health Organization commemorates 34 years of its existence, of which the past 18 months was the most challenging. As in other parts of the world, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating health, social and economic impact on the population of West Africa. Since its inception, WAHO has worked closely with the 15 Ministries of Health of ECOWAS Member States, the Africa Regional Office of WHO and all key stakeholders, including more recently the Africa Centre for Disease Control, to drive its mandate of safeguarding and improving the health of the region’s citizens.
And despite recurrent disease outbreaks and epidemics that have challenged the fragile health systems in our region, WAHO has championed several health improvement programs including projects on reducing the number of women dying during childbirth and the number of children dying before the age of 5 years; projects on increasing local manufacture of high quality drugs; and projects on strengthening the region’s disease surveillance, preparedness and response architecture to ensure that infectious disease outbreaks are detected early and responded to robustly.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, WAHO has led the regional response efforts by facilitating coordination, collaboration and communication between Member States and between the region and international partners. We have provided over 100,000kg of critically needed medical materials such as laboratory diagnostic equipment and reagents, personal protective equipment (PPEs), and respiratory ventilators, to support Member States in their national efforts. Over 3000 healthcare personnel have been trained in various skills required for the COVID-19 response efforts in addition to targeted financial support to help Member States in specific areas of need, such as engagement of contact tracers or public health rapid response teams, or purchase of necessary equipment for surveillance or diagnosis.
As we mark this year’s WAHO Day therefore, it is important that we remember all our citizens that have died in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially healthcare workers that have paid the ultimate price with their lives whilst at the forefront of the response to this devastating pandemic. May the souls of all the departed rest in perfect peace.
Today also offers us the opportunity to reflect on the continuing challenges we face in trying to improve the health of the region’s population. One lesson of the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in our region was the need for an agency under WAHO dedicated specifically to surveillance, preparation and response to the recurrent epidemics in the region. Five years after the establishment of the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (ECOWAS RCSDC) it is an issue of personal regret that the centre is not yet fully operational due to bureaucratic delays in the long running ECOWAS Institutional Reform program. WAHO therefore continues to lead the region’s health security agenda in addition to all the other burning health issues, such as malaria, non-communicable diseases, regional production of quality medicines, and universal health coverage.
Although the region has fared much better than predicted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the weaknesses in our health systems have been exposed, including weaknesses in infrastructure, human resources, and laboratory capacity, in addition to deficits in the levels of community engagement required for effective disease control. Governments and stakeholders must therefore resolve to strengthen national health systems, and to rebuild trust with our populations without whom public health measures will fail. It is within our power as individuals and groups to control this pandemic through social behavioral change, whilst we await availability of sufficient vaccine doses through international collaboration and ongoing discussions on establishing vaccine manufacturing facilities in the region.
WAHO is extremely grateful for the support of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS Member States, the Ministers of Health, and of our international partners as we continue in solidarity on the march to regional integration through health. We still have a lot of work to do, but I believe that working together, we will succeed.
Long live ECOWAS. Long live WAHO. Long live Regional Integration.
The West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) was established in 1987 but became fully operational in 2000 when the first Director General was appointed. Over the years, WAHO has evolved to become a regional leader in health as it continues to deliver on its mandate as the Health Institution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
(MONROVIA-Monday, June 28, 2021): The Incident Management System-COVID-19, and Last Mile Health are currently conducting a weeklong community engagement and awareness activities cross several counties in Liberia.
The rigorous awareness exercise targets all districts in Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, and Grand Gedeh Counties.
A total of sixteen teams are being mobilized to work with community leaders with the Montserrado County Health Team, while four teams from the rest of the counties are now in full gear to ensure public awareness.
The robust awareness exercise focuses on the distribution of 500,000 locally made face masks to community leaders, school authorities, the Liberian Marketing Association, and civil society organizations.
Dr. Wilhelmina S. Jallah, Minister of Health, and Chairperson, Incident Management System, lauded Last Mile Health timely support to the Risk Communication Pillar.
Dr. Jallah stated that the launch of the ‘Mask Wearing campaign” by Last Mile Health and the Incident Management System is in consistent with the government of Liberia, and the Incident Management System desires to ensure Liberians and foreign Nationals’ abide by the health measures of wearing mask to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 Virus.
She praised Last Mile Health Family for its tremendous support to the IMS, including other interventions of the Health system.
For her part, Last Mile Health Country Director, Madam Marion Subah stated that her organization remain committed to Liberia’s health delivery system, especially the fight against COVID-19 Pandemic.
Madam Subah said Last Mile Health as part of the support to the Incident Management System, has allocated awareness support to other counties in which Last Mile Health is operational.
The ongoing exercise involves robust community engagement activities, the distribution of 500, 000 face masks, outreach activities using moving stage methodology, the distribution of social behavior change materials on the Dos & Don’t of COVID-19 to ensure Liberia contains the further the spread of the COVID-19 Virus.
Meanwhile, the Last Mile Health has presented to the Inter Religious Council of Liberia, two thousand sermon guide to aid religious leaders to enable them properly disseminate information on the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.
The sermon guide provides guidelines and specific COVID-19 messages for religious leader to disseminate to their various congregations, especially during the continued surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Receiving the sermon guides on half of the Islamic Community, Iman Abdullah G. Mansaray, President, Interfaith Religious Council, (IRCL),lauded the initiative by Last Mile Health and the Incident Management System to reach out to all across the country in its effort to containing the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Iman Mansaray, stated that the Interfaith Religious Council will continued to be the beacon of hope amidst continued despair of Liberians in the wake of the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases.
The Islamic prelate said the sermon guide will accelerate continued awareness on the Coronavirus Pandemic by religious leaders in Liberia, through various sermons by both Christians and Muslims in Liberia about the danger COVID-19 poses to the health and economic growth of the world.
Imam Mansaray, called on religious leaders to use the sermon guide as an important catalyst to changing the behavior of their various congregations attitude towards the fight of COVID-19 by abiding by all measure put in place by health authorities and the government of Liberia.
Chester A. Smith/Risk Communication Pillar Lead