In response to the recent devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the WHO has called for the establishment of a Central National Emergency Operations Centre that would rely on eHealth technology to deal with future disease outbreaks and related emergencies.

The WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, revealed the plans for the centre while addressing high-level experts from governments, development agencies, civil society and international organisations at the “Building Health Security Beyond Ebola” conference at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town on 13 July 2015. The aim of the conference was to establish partnerships between African countries and the rest of the world in order to deal with healthcare emergencies in the future.

According to Moeti, the Ebola outbreak showed the need for countries to be prepared and have the capacity to rapidly respond to outbreaks and emergencies to maintain national and global health security.

“Transborder, transnational and intercontinental cooperation remains a high priority for the WHO considering the frequency and magnitude of health crises before us. To prepare and respond to these crises, we have no margin for error and timing is essential,” said Moeti.

Moeti said as a minimum requirement, the WHO wanted to ensure that all countries across the African continent have several capacities in place to deal with future outbreaks. These include a surveillance system that will cover the country from community to national level and be adapted to relevant conditions, which will use well-trained staff and proven information management systems; a central national emergency operation centre with capabilities and resources to function as a central hub for national surveillance at all times, and as the central operational hub to be activated during health emergencies; sustainable community engagement and risk communication strategies and resourced plans; and critical laboratory diagnostic capacities with associated quality assessment processes.

During the meeting, the Department of Health’s Director General, Malebona Matsoso, noted that the WHO had previously passed a resolution and came up with a global strategy and plan of action on public health innovation and intellectual property rights.

“The strategy has eight elements and the first three elements deal with investment in research and development as well as promoting research and development and building innovative capacities in developing countries,” said Matsoso.“The other elements deal with access. The Ebola experience shows that there has been a market failure particularly for diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. There is no effort to make investment in research and development and we have seen this with Ebola.”

Matsoso added that the proposals covered in the resolution point to a need for countries to build mechanisms for which there can be financing incentive schemes that can reward innovation as an incentive to develop products that can deal with these specific diseases that affect poor countries. “We can use the Ebola example to address these market failures,” Matsoso concluded.

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