The health system in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its member countries must be improved, as has been demonstrated by the Ebola epidemic of 2014 and recent outbreaks of new and recurring diseases such as dengue, Lassa and yellow fever, monkeypox and cholera. The level of overarching emergency preparedness and hazard prevention in disease control is low. In addition, there is insufficient communication of health risks in the regions and in the ECOWAS member states. A central challenge is the lack of efficient communication and coordination between the ECOWAS Commission, the West African Health Organization (WAHO), specialist agencies such as the Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCSDC) and the Regional Centre for Animal Health (RAHC), all national institutions for disease control and prevention, and partners.
The population of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is better protected against epidemics.
The project aims to improve advice to ECOWAS member countries on how to establish selected disease control mechanisms from the ECOWAS Commission, WAHO and specialist agencies. These mechanisms are based on the core capacities of the International Health Regulations (IHR) laid down by the WHO, which are to be bindingly achieved by the countries. This will improve the performance of health systems in the field of disease control and enable more comprehensive, timely and effective control of disease outbreaks and epidemics.
The project focuses on gender-sensitive risk communication and improved communication and coordination between institutions. A further focus area of the project is on the training of disease control staff in the regions and at country level in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Togo. In addition, the digital disease surveillance and outbreak management system SORMAS is being expanded in Nigeria and introduced in Ghana.
Co-financing from the European Union has allowed the project’s expansion. Close cooperation with the GFA Consulting Group, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and consultants is assisting in implementing the project’s activities.
The project has provided effective support in the development process for regional strategies on risk communication and inter-institutional communication and coordination in disease control. The strategies were technically reviewed by the 15 ECOWAS member states. The project is currently assisting in the development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for risk communication and for information exchange in health emergencies between national and regional institutions. These SOPs are tested by crisis situations and through simulation exercises.
In addition, a procedure manual for the ECOWAS regional rapid response team (RRRT) has been developed and tested. Furthermore, the project develops tailor-made support measures to strengthen the national coordination institutions (NCIs) in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. The project also implemented innovative information and communication technology (ICT) approaches in cooperation with GFA Consulting Group. A regional virtual platform for pooling ECOWAS-specific risk communication has been established. Software design competitions (Hackathons) took place in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, with the winning teams developing modern ICT solutions to risk communication challenges. In the course of rolling out the outbreak management and disease surveillance system SORMAS, over 400 of 774 local government areas have already been reached. In Ghana the tool is currently being tested in a pilot project.