Celebrating the 28th WAHO DAY, ECOWAS Health Institution
As you may know, July 9, 2015 marks the 28th anniversary of the establishment of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) by the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States of (ECOWAS).
As in previous years, 2015 is for me a renewed honor to deliver this message on the occasion of this event which represents one of the highlights of our institution.
WAHO’s anniversary this year also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of ECOWAS. On this occasion, I would like to pay tribute to ECOWAS’ founding fathers as their vision and will to make our region a cohesive bloc through regional integration, are still relevant.
|Dr. Xavier CRESPIN - WAHO Director General’s Message
All credit must go to them for championing the cause of a common vision with the creation in 1975 of ECOWAS. The past four decades in the life of ECOWAS were punctuated not only with difficulties and challenges, but also successes, among which we can mention the creation of several specialized institutions and agencies working towards the realization of this vision. Among these institutions, there is WAHO. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and appreciation to the Heads of State and Government for establishing this genuine tool for regional integration and especially for their continued support in helping to fulfill its mission, which is to provide the highest level of health benefits to ECOWAS populations.
Thus, WAHO through the implementation of its priority programs, including epidemics control has been contributing significantly to regional integration and playing a key role in ensuring the free movement of people and goods, which is often hampered by epidemic outbreaks including that of Ebola virus disease in 2014 that led to the closure of some borders, with the attendant break in trade and tourism activities.
Free movement of health professionals is real thanks to the human resources development program, which has been promoting mutual recognition of certificates and qualifications in order to bridge the gap in terms of health human resources in some countries and recruit specialists to fill in the gaps in other member states.
Similarly, medicines registration harmonization is likely to offer pharmaceutical industries of the various member states an opportunity to benefit from a larger regional market.
WAHO, through all these actions aimed at improving the populations’ health is contributing to the economic growth and development of the region. For, it is a well-known fact that a healthy population is a source of higher productivity and production, thus creating more wealth.
However, despite the successes, WAHO is facing other challenges such as:
· Weak health systems;
· High maternal, child and infant mortality rate;
· Inadequate strategic partnerships, coordination and monitoring/ evaluation;
· Dire consequences of communicable and non-communicable diseases;
· Poor preparedness and response to emergencies such as epidemic outbreaks.
With specific reference to preparedness and response to epidemics in recent years, thousands of people in our region have been hit by epidemics, among others, cholera, meningitis, measles, Lassa fever, yellow fever and since March 2014, by the Ebola virus disease epidemic.
The attendant morbidity and mortality are very important and could be particularly related to poor involvement of communities and also especially to fragile health systems as well as lack of communication for the adoption of positive behaviour.
Indeed, without an effective communication strategy and community involvement, local people can not adhere effectively to the fight against epidemics.
In the fight against epidemics, various communications tools, both classic and new, are involved. In addition to print media, radio and television for disseminating messages, the mobile phone has been an important tool in the management of outbreaks and improved access to care.
Nothing demonstrates this assertion more clearly than Maternal and Child Health, where WAHO had to provide support to a few member states in the framework of the implementation of a mobile phone-based solution called RapidSMS.The system offered comprehensive and instant data on maternal and newborn deaths and critical inputs of reproductive health and nutrition. The recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease provided us also with an opportunity to develop or promote a few mobile applications that were key in case detection and monitoring of patients and contacts tracing.
That is why on the occasion of this year’s commemoration, WAHO has chosen as its theme: “The contribution ofmobile phone in the management of epidemics at the community level” with a view to catching the attention of people, member states and the international community on the importance of the use of Information and Communication Technologies in general and mobile phones especially in the mobilization for the prevention and response to epidemics.
As a matter of fact, according to a 2013 study, mobile phones afford African populations, of which 60% live in rural areas, an opportunity to access multiple services in the field of health. According to the same study, over 73% of Africans have a mobile phone.
Thus, in view of the relevance of the theme, I strongly call for action for the implementation of appropriate communication strategies in order to enhance the flow of health information and improve the health of populations in the ECOWAS region.
Today more than ever before, we must pool our efforts, at both country and regional levels (between states), as Technical and Financial Partners and as mobile telephone companies under the public-private partnership to achieve our common goals.
Therefore, in accordance with the 2016-2020 Community Strategic Framework’s vision, WAHO’s Regional Strategic Plan for the same period will focus on communication and the use of Information and Communication Technologies with the main aim to improve further the efficiency of our operations.
Furthermore, when some of our countries are contending with epidemics in general and particularly the Ebola virus disease epidemic, we would once again like to draw everyone’s attention to the preventive measures recommended by health authorities. I would like to seize this opportunity to express our solidarity and compassion to hard-hit populations, congratulate and encourage all actors involved in the control effort.
On this remembrance day of WAHO’s 28th anniversary, I would particularly like to express our gratitude and commitment to the ideals of integration championed by ECOWAS, which always supports WAHO’s interventions. I cannot end this address without placing on record the individual and collective commitment of all ECOWAS Member States to health issues and their support to health activities at regional level.
Finally, I would like to reiterate our appreciation to all the leaders in our region and all partners for their efforts geared towards securing for our populations the welfare they so long for.
Long live African integration!
Long live ECOWAS!
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.