It is a known fact that the African continent has been the worst hit whenever issues of disease outbreaks are mentioned – talk of the deadly outbreak of poliomyelitis in the 1970’s, which paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children on an annual basis, the havoc of malaria, outbreak of meningitis which is feared to have occurred hundreds of years back, killing millions of people and even the most recent Ebola outbreak which hit the West African continent in late 2014 and claimed thousands of lives.
In the midst of it all, Africa has survived and continues to strongly stand out in defense against these outbreaks. Aside various clinical interventions by World Health Organisation, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other well-meaning organisations, what other approach has Africa taken to either contain or avert these outbreaks?
Incisive Political Engagement: African states like Ghana, South Africa and even Nigeria have demonstrated a capacity to eradicate some diseases like polio, amd to control thr spread of others such as malaria, HIV/AIDS or even Ebola. They have achieved these successes by setting a national priority to combat such outbreaks.
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In Ghana, for instance, elections are not always about partisanship and the battle of economics, but rather the quest to find out how much a sitting president has been able to reduce the statistical index of a particular disease or outbreak. Ability to control and contain an outbreak has always been a benchmark of leadership.
How was Nigeria able to fully contain the case of Ebola in the midst of the nation’s weak health systems? This was realized when political leaders cooperated with technical cadres, federal and state institutions across both public and private sectors in rolling out the most effective response to the virus. No wonder Nigeria became the first African country to be declared Ebola-free.
Public Engagement: It used to be that whenever issues of sickness and disease were mentioned, the scare of myths and rumors always took on the center stage. This gave way to heightened cases of stigmatization and social neglect.
Although this continues to be a challenge in Africa, much public education has changed the face of things over the years. Governments have used communication vans, electronic advertisements, public fora and other strategies to engage with the public and community and help many to understand that, to a large extent, sickness is not punishment from the gods.
Public-Private Partnerships: Assessing the practical ways by which most African states, including those in the West African sub-region, have tackled outbreaks of cholera, polio and even Ebola, the World Economic Forum says:
Bringing a range of actors from within the public and private sectors, including the donor communities, onto a singular platform allowed for more efficient use of resources in Africa. It also permitted a good mix of private and local technical expertise while balancing contextual realities. The multi-sectoral approach also enabled response teams to harness the best resources and capabilities from non-traditional players in the health sector. For instance, the distribution of SIM cards and Internet data plans provided by telecommunications companies in West Africa went a long way to enable real-time contact tracing and reporting especially during the outbreak of Ebola.
It remains a fact that Africa still has a long way to go in strengthening health and social institutions all over the continent. It cannot be denied, however, that the continent continues to make strides, especially during devastating moments of an outbreak as seen with the case of Ebola.
Let us ask ourselves: without the innovative role played by African governments in containing of such outbreaks, do you think the continent would be as resilient as recent problems indicate?