The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, member states, the UK Health Security Agency, and other development partners have launched a five-year strategic plan for strengthening public health emergency operations centers in Africa and countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The five-year strategic plan for 2023 to 2027 launched on Wednesday night at the ongoing third International Conference on Public Health in Africa in Lusaka, Zambia, is expected to be operational in at least 50 African countries to leap towards enhancing health preparedness and response.

The strategic plan is to guide the implementation of PHEOCs in Member States of the African and Eastern Mediterranean Regions towards meeting the minimum requirements or core capacities of a PHEOC.

The plan will guide nations as they actively work to position PHEOCs as central nerve centers for risk assessment, planning, and sharing of critical resources.

The PHEOC is critical to meeting the requirements of international health regulations by assisting Member States to build and improve their public health emergency management capabilities.

However, it is estimated that $181,837,498 is needed to implement the activities planned for the next five years in both regions.

The budget will cover costs related to renovating the PHEOC facilities, procurement of information and communication technology equipment, salary and daily subsistence allowances for experts, workshop participation, training and simulation exercise programmes, and establishing regional PHEOCs of excellence, among others.

Speaking at the launch of the plan, the Director General of WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said the plan will shape the future of public health in the African region and the Eastern Mediterranean region.

According to her, the devastating impact of disease outbreaks and conflict jeopardizes the health of millions of people and poses challenges that threaten their health.

“Together, we are working on the next phase, ensuring a safer, healthier and more resilient future where public health emergencies no longer hold us tightened with fear.

“The plan marks a major milestone in the journey in ensuring health security and prompt response to public health emergencies,” Dr Moeti said.

The WHO regional boss said there is a need to work together and pool resources to ensure the implementation of the plan.

“We are writing a new chapter on health security in Africa that will benefit generations to come,” she added.

On his part, the Director General of the Africa CDC, Dr Jean Kaseya, said only one African country is ready to respond to public health emergency; hence, all countries in the Africa region are at risk and exposed to outbreaks.

“As we know, the Africa region is facing an average of two to three outbreaks per week.

“From January to November 2023, we already have 158 public health emergencies that we are managing,” he said.

The Africa CDC DG stressed that the only way to prevent and respond to outbreaks is through strong PHEOCs. He said while progress has been recorded in strengthening emergency preparedness and response, disparity still exists. He, however, calls for partnerships to foster the implementation of the five-year strategic plan.

“The disparity that we see is calling us to have a strong partnership.

“This is why we are calling all of our colleagues, all of our partners to consider what we will achieve under this five-year strategic plan – 90 per cent of at least of countries with PHEOCs.

“We need $181m to implement this plan. Let us put our hands together, let us be sure that we are working, let us ensure that we provide at least the $181m that we are requesting,” Kaseya noted.

He pledged a commitment to sensitising member states to contribute towards the implementation of the plan.

The PUNCH reports that the objectives of the strategic plan are to ensure that by 2027, at least 90 per cent of member states in Africa and Eastern Mediterranean regions have developed and implemented the core PHEOC policy, plans, and procedures; develop and strengthen the capabilities of the PHEOC workforce (routine and surge staff) to support preparedness and response coordination among at least 90 per cent of member states in Africa and Eastern Mediterranean regions by 2027.

Other objectives are to ensure that by 2027, at least 90 per cent of PHEOCs in the Member States of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region will have the information management and sharing platforms containing the minimum data required and that at least 90 per cent of Member States in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region will have a PHEOC facility in place equipped with information, communication technology, and physical infrastructure that meets the minimum requirements.

It is also to designate eight centres of excellence PHEOCs in selected member states in the WHO African and Eastern Mediterranean regions by the end of 2027.