WASHINGTON, July 7, 2015 – The 2014 Ebola outbreak highlighted major gaps in disease prevention and control efforts in health systems across East Africa. With the support of US$50 million approved today by the World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors; Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda will strengthen access to a network of quality public health laboratories with revitalized disease surveillance, prevention and preparedness capabilities.
Today’s financing from the International Development Association (IDA)* will build on the achievements of the ongoing East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project (EAPHLIN) to establish a network of efficient public health laboratories for the diagnosis and surveillance of communicable diseases in the EAC member countries. “The project provides a game changer opportunity to work together to contain the spread of diseases in East Africa,” said Fausta Mosha, Director of the National Health Laboratory Quality Assurance and Training Center in Tanzania.
The focus and funding of the original project was on strengthening public health laboratories, a critical but neglected area of health systems. Today’s financing will expand the geographic coverage by bringing successful activities to additional facilities in cross border areas. “We plan on expanding coverage to address hot spot areas for disease transmission,” noted Dr. Liboire Ngirigi, Director General of Health Services and AIDS Control in the Ministry of Health in Burundi.
In order to ensure health systems are effective in delivering an impact, the new financing will focus on management and containment of communicable diseases, including establishing isolation units, and bolstering community surveillance activities. “With the additional financing, Uganda’s epidemic and preparedness and response system will be ushered to greater heights”, said Dr. Alex Opio, Commissioner of Health Services and Project Coordinator from Uganda. “We will continue to provide regional leadership on laboratory accreditation to assist all countries to progress towards international standards.”
There is growing global recognition of the importance of coordinated regional action in tackling disease outbreaks. The additional financing will bolster cross border disease surveillance and outbreak preparedness and response capacities. It will also help scale up gold standard laboratory and disease surveillance systems as well as promote an integrated model for providing diagnostic services in border areas. “The project has raised the visibility of laboratories and promoted an evidence based approach,” said Mamo Umuro, Head, Division of National Public Health Laboratory Services at Kenya’s Ministry of Health. “We have seen tremendous change in our laboratories, clinicians and public health officials now have greater confidence in laboratory results, we are now able to contribute in a timely manner during epidemics.”
A regional approach is critical to effective disease control efforts. The ongoing laboratory project has established strong regional coordination mechanisms, platforms, and partnerships that have proven effective for harmonizing strategies, promoting learning, and sharing knowledge. “The evidence based approach has helped generate new knowledge about what works,” said Prof. Yoswa Dambisya, the Director General of the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community which coordinates activities at the regional level.
The ongoing project has also empowered countries to provide leadership regionally and serve as centers of excellence for disease control efforts.
“Using a regional approach to maximize impact will give these East African countries the support to put in place stronger systems to prevent and reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks, detect threats early, mount rapid effective responses, and measure progress,” said Miriam Schneidman, Lead Health Specialist and Team Leader for the EAPHLN project.