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WHO African Region gets its own Strategic Health Operations Centre

A Strategic Health Operations Centre, known simply as the AFRO SHOC Room, has been established at the Brazzaville headquarters of the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

The facility will serve as the hub for coordinating the response to outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics, natural or man-made disasters and other public health emergencies in the region.

“We are witnessing a very important moment for WHO in the African Region and for this office in particular”, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, said during the official commissioning ceremony which took place recently in Brazzaville.

“This state-of-the-art facility, complete with video and telephone conferencing facilities will ensure real-time communication with WHO Headquarters; other WHO regions; our Country Offices and Intercountry Support Teams (ISTs) at base locations in Libreville, Ouagadougou and Harare; partners, and other rapid response teams operating in the field,” Dr Sambo said.

He added: “The AFRO SHOC Room will revolutionize our ability to mount coordinated rapid responses, and to save lives more quickly.” Built-in electronic storage systems in the AFRO SHOC will ensure storage of large volumes of epidemiological data as well as well as facilitate detailed analysis of these data.

Situated in a room on the first floor of AFRO’s headquarters in the Congolese capital, the AFRO SHOC is fitted with a dedicated VSAT communication system and satellite plasma television screens which receive dozens of TV channels in different languages, thus enhancing thecollection, compilation, verification, risk assessment and monitoring of public health events that could threaten regional health security.

To support the process of outbreak detection, verification, risk assessment and monitoring, WHO has developed a web based application called Event Management System (EMS) which uses the latest information technology and acts as an early warning and response system.

Management of the AFRO SHOC Room

The centre is managed by WHO AFRO’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Programme whose primary mission is to support Member States of the African Region to establish and implement functional integrated early warning and epidemic preparedness and response systems that will result in the improved prediction, early detection and rapid and effective response to epidemic- and pandemic-prone diseases that will be the foundation of an integrated regional alert and response system for epidemics and other public health emergencies.

Functionality of the SHOC Room:

Provide facilities for coordination of response to health emergencies within the region.

Ability to access satellite television broadcasts on multiple touch screens.

Ability to access political and geographical maps of the region’s 46 Member States, using sophisticated software able to zoom into specific locations (city, village or site as much as possible).

Communication via e-mail telephone, fax, video, satellite phone, high frequency radio using one or the other as an alternative and backup.

Ability to access video-conferencing facilities.

Connection to situation rooms at HQ, regional and country offices as well as WHO AFRO’s ISTs.

Ability to function 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

The AFRO SHOC boasts an equipment room, a main operations room, two outbreak rooms and a control room.

African Health Ministers adopt Brazzaville Declaration on Noncommunicable Diseases

The first Africa Regional Ministerial Consultation on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) ended in the Congolese capital with the adoption of the Brazzaville Declaration on NCDs (available at http://www.afro.who.int/en/clusters-a-programmes/dpc/non-communicable-diseases-managementndm.html).

The Declaration urged urgent action by various stakeholders to address major NCDs and priority conditions which represent “a significant challenge” to people in the African Region: cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, diseases of blood disorder (in particular sickle-cell disease), mental health, violence and injuries.

In the Declaration, the ministers also committed to develop national NCD action plans and strengthen institutional capacities for NCD prevention and control; urged the United Nations to include NCD prevention and control in all future global development goals; and called on WHO, partners and civil society organizations to provide technical support to Member States for implementing, monitoring and evaluating recommendations contained in the Declaration.

The Declaration specifically requested heads of state and governments in the Region to endorse the Declaration and present it to the September 2011 UN General Assembly High-Level Summit on NCDs as the position of the Region on NCDs.

The ministers also requested the UN Secretary General to establish a mechanism to monitor progress of the commitments taken at the UN High-level Summit on NCDs, and called on the WHO Regional Director for Africa to include the regional NCD strategic plan in the agenda of the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa and report progress made in the implementation of the declaration to the Regional Committee in 2014.

Highlights of the Declaration include commitment by the ministers to:

Strengthen and standardize national health systems to generate disaggregated data on NCDs, their risk factors and determinants and monitor their magnitude, trends, and impact.

Use all appropriate means including information and communication technologies to promote, intensify and increase health awareness and empowerment of individuals and communities.

Develop and implement NCD prevention and control strategies, guidelines, policies, legislations and regulatory frameworks including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to protect individuals, families and communities from unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol, tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke and unsafe food; and from violence and injuries, advertising of unhealthy products.

Reorient national health systems towards the promotion and support of healthy lifestyles by individuals, families and communities within the primary health care context in order to effectively respond to complex social, cultural and behavioural aspects associated with NCDs.

Further strengthen health systems with appropriate attention to, among other things, health financing; training and retaining the health workforce; procurement and distribution of medicines, vaccines, medical supplies and equipment; improving infrastructure; and, evidence-based and cost-effective service delivery for NCDs.

Identify and harness existing health initiatives, including global initiatives, to accelerate the prevention and control of NCDs and address integrated care in the context of primary health care and health systems strengthening.

Support and encourage partnerships, alliances and networks bringing together national, regional and global players including academic and research institutions, public and private sectors, and civil society in order to collaborate in NCD prevention and control and to conduct innovative research relevant to the African context.

Allocate, from national budgets, financial resources that are commensurate to the burden of NCDs to support NCD primary prevention and case management using primary health care approach and establish sustainable innovative and new financing mechanisms at national and international levels.

Ministers launch pioneering initiatives to tackle health and environment issues in Africa

The Second Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment, held from 25 to 26 November 2010 in Luanda, Angola, adopted the Luanda Commitment which outlines the continent’s health and environment priorities and commits countries to take actions to address them, and accelerate the implementation of the Libreville Declaration. The conference was jointly organized by WHO (World Health Organization) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and hosted by the Government of Angola.

The priorities listed in the Luanda Commitment include provision of safe drinking water; provision of sanitation and hygiene services; management of environmental and health risks related to climate change; sustainable management of forests and wetlands; and management of water, soil and air pollution as well as biodiversity conservation.

Other priorities are vector control and management of chemicals, particularly pesticides and wastes; food safety and security, including the management of genetically-modified organisms in food production; children’s health and women’s environmental health; health in the workplace and the management of natural and human-induced disasters.

With the Luanda Commitment, countries pledge to accelerate the implementation of the Libreville Declaration, especially because of the effect this will have on the attainment of Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, 6 and 7 relating to child health, maternal health, communicable diseases and environmental sustainability respectively.

The ministers also agreed to mobilize resources available from government budgets and the private sector, and to advocate for and monitor the allocation of 15% of government expenditure to the health sector, as stated in the 2001 Abuja Declaration by African Heads of State, and a substantial increase in government spending on the environment sector.

WHO and the UNEP, the co-organizers of the conference, are requested in the Luanda Commitment to increase their support for the implementation of the Libreville Declaration; broaden the participation of other relevant inter-governmental organizations, development banks and regional economic communities; and establish a mechanism to facilitate access by countries to existing financial resources for health, the environment and sustainable development, especially climate change funds.

The ministers also formally established the Health and Environment Strategic Alliance (HESA), a novel mechanism to stimulate policies and investments in favour of enhanced joint actions for health and environment in Africa. HESA, the first ever collaboration framework of its type between African countries and two United Nations agencies in Africa, was adopted alongside the other major conference outputs.

Building on the linkages between the health and environment sectors, HESA, now institutionalized, will develop and coordinate actions to effectively protect and promote public health and ecosystem integrity with a view to helping countries attain the Millennium Development Goals.

It will concretely support country efforts through advocacy, resource mobilization, capacity building, technical assistance as well as progress monitoring, as part of the implementation of the Libreville Declaration, adopted in 2008 to reduce environmental threats to human health and well-being.

Also, for the first time, African ministers of health and environment made their strongest pronouncement ever on climate change and health in the region, with the adoption of a Joint Statement on Climate Change and Health.

The statement articulates Africa’s common position on climate change and health, and calls for support for actions aimed at reducing vulnerability and building resilience in the health sector in African countries. It also captures commitments by African ministers to address climate change in the continent, particularly as its effects are likely to be more severe than originally anticipated and may exacerbate the effects of traditional and emerging environmental risk factors on human health, thereby hampering Africa’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals.

The Joint Statement on Climate Change and Health will be tabled before the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place from 29 November to 10 December 2010 in Cancún, Mexico.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the conference, the Minister of Environment of Angola, Ms Fatima Jardim, said, “Angola can contribute by setting the example and through interaction and information, consolidate the mutual commitments set out in the important tools we have adopted at this meeting and which will serve not only as a link between the health and environment sectors but also to connect us in a commitment as countries of a continent.”

The Regional Director and Representative of UNEP in Africa, Mr Mounkaila Goumandakoye said, “The Luanda Conference is a milestone as the health and environment sectors become credible and strategic partners. I leave this meeting further convinced that the future of Africa is not cast anywhere. It is we who determine this by our commitments, our determination and our actions.”

Assessing the outcomes of the conference, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo said, “The three tools that we have adopted at this conference are clear and consistent and the decisions we have taken will serve us well in the implementation of the Libreville Declaration.”