Outbreaks of serious infectious disease occur somewhere in the world almost every day. If they are discovered too late, not identified or misdiagnosed, many people can pay with their lives and development achievements can be negated.
In many partner countries of development cooperation, health systems and national structures are not sufficiently prepared for outbreaks of infectious disease or are unable to contain them at an early stage. Likewise, the international community was too slow to respond to the serious Ebola crisis, which had devastating effects on some countries in West Africa in 2014/15. Since then, bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and numerous countries have been working on responding more quickly to such outbreaks in future.
As a key component of German involvement, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has formed an Epidemic Prevention Team. Through rapid deployment on the ground, it helps to identify outbreaks of disease as quickly as possible and stop them from spreading. The team is therefore working to prevent the often excessive delay between initial reports of a disease and the initiation of national and international countermeasures. It supports affected countries’ efforts to prepare and equip themselves better to tackle infectious diseases.
In the event of an outbreak of disease with epidemic potential, the partner countries of German development cooperation are better able to prevent the spread of disease at an earlier stage.
A core team based at GIZ tracks reports of the outbreak of disease worldwide, paying particular attention to unusual events such as the first-time occurrence of a disease with epidemic potential in a country. In consultation with its cooperation partners – the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and the Robert Koch Institute – the team assesses the situation and produces recommendations for action for BMZ. All three organisations also provide experts for deployment.
A number of factors – including hospital conditions and equipment, staff training standards as well as political processes, the cultural context and communication – can determine whether or not an infectious disease spreads. The response teams are therefore formed on an interdisciplinary basis depending on the relevant problem and requirements. Experts from various fields assess the situation on the ground and strengthen affected countries’ resilience to the outbreak of disease. This is done, for example, by developing laboratory resources, training personnel, raising awareness and devising contingency plans. If the disease spreads nonetheless, the experts assist with preparations for the launching of international aid.
The Epidemic Prevention Team’s activities are coordinated closely with those of other organisations and institutions, including WHO. The pool of experts available for assignment is growing; in principle, it is open to all organisations and experts with the relevant skillsets. GIZ coordinates deployments, drawing on its established structures which, in many cases, have been in place in its partner countries for decades. The cooperation with governments and organisations on the ground, which is based on a relationship of mutual trust, makes German development cooperation an important partner in difficult situations of this type.