By Dr. Chikwe | September 05, 2017
In the last year, we have continued to strengthen our relationship with our colleagues from the Agriculture and Environment Ministries, with representatives serving in our different disease Technical Working Groups. Given the size of our country, we ackno

The beginning of the month of July started on a high note for us, we hosted the 2nd Annual NCDC/NFELTP Scientific Conference in Abuja. The theme for this year was “Strengthening One Health through Field Epidemiology Training”.

I recall the early days following my appointment as Chief Executive Officer in July 2016 with the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (NFELTP) Conference being one of my first ‘assignments’- attending different sessions and listening to the work being done by Field Epidemiologists across the country. One gap I noticed at the time was that there was an insufficient integration of activities between the NFELTP and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The NFELTP is one of our best public health programmes in Nigeria, and a stronger integration between both organizations is existential for both. This is also in keeping with the countries from which we have adapted this model of training field epidemiologists. Together with the leadership of NFELTP, we have worked on this and now have several graduates of the NFELTP working in various capacities at the NCDC. Residents are also fully involved in outbreak response activities, and for the first time, we jointly hosted the Annual Epidemiology Conference. There is no better example of #StrongerTogether.

On the sideline of the Conference, we worked with our colleagues at the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) and Global Implementation Solutions (GIS) to host a One Health meeting. This two-day meeting which took place in Abuja included representatives from the Federal Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, several colleagues from the academia across the country and our partners. We

also carried out a SWOT1* analysis- leveraging on our work in the past including through the Field Epidemiology program, and what we can do to make it better. It was an opportunity to review ‘One Health’ models that are in existence in other countries, including African countries, with a view to proposing an effective model for Nigeria. At the end of the two days, we had developed an agreed list of priority zoonotic diseases for the country, as well as a proposed plan for the NCDC to take forward, the establishment of a ‘One Health Platform’ for Nigeria. This is a plan that will guide us in the coming years to effectively prepare, detect and rapidly respond to zoonotic diseases.

The theme of this year’s Conference was timely in many ways. One reason was the completion of our Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of our country’s capacities to adhere to the International Health Regulations (2005). These are legal commitments made by countries to assure national health security. The is basically a peer-review process with subject matter experts reviewing a country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to diseases and events of public health importance. My team decided that we will be completely transparent and ensure that nothing is swept under the carpet. Our JEE process which was concluded in June highlighted some gaps in our capabilities and we will spend the next few months, plugging these gaps.

1 SWOT- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats- for the establishment of a One Health platform in Nigeria

Supported by the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Partnership (GARP) in Nigeria, we held a session on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in Nigeria. I was very happy with the large turnout of people - NFELTP Residents, Medical doctors, colleagues from the private sector and academia who wanted to hear and be a part of our work on AMR. It was an exciting session with a lot of fruitful deliberations. It was fulfilling to note the evident passion towards addressing AMR in Nigeria. We will definitely build on this for the future.

The Conference had an interesting lineup of speakers from around the world focusing on several topics including AMR, One Health, Role of National Public Health Institutes, Role of research and disease outbreaks. It was at this event that I shared for the first time, a personal evaluation of our response to the 2016/2017 Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. The days preceding the Conference and time spent developing my presentation slides were filled with deep reflection on the work we do. I recognised that there were definitely areas where we could have done better and shared these with the audience of disease detectives. In doing so, I charged myself and all present to reach an agreement that we must never return to having such a situation on our hands again.

Towards the end of July, NCDC staff and stakeholders involved in the Meningitis response including our partners from the rest of Africa and the world, converged in Sokoto for an ‘After Action Meeting’. We reviewed the steps taken, the mistakes made, the successes we achieved and harnessed all this into developing a preparedness plan for the next dry season.

In the last year, we have continued to strengthen our relationship with our colleagues from the Agriculture and Environment Ministries, with representatives serving in our different disease Technical Working Groups. Given the size of our country, we acknowledge that a linear approach to disease control as has been done in the past, is just not possible. With great leadership of the Honorable Ministers of Health, whose guidance and support make the entire process easier, we are confident that this cross-sectoral relationship will build a stronger disease control architecture for Nigeria.

Our work to control outbreaks of Lassa fever and preventing Cholera cases cannot be achieved without a strong One Health approach, including all our partners. We are building on outcomes from the Conference and side meetings, as well as other gatherings, to develop a centralised structure for One Health in our country. We will leverage on best practices from the global community as shared during the NCDC/NFELTP Conference to ensure that Nigeria is not left behind in responding to human and animal health, as well as environmental challenges.

We continue in our quest to build a strong, vibrant public health institute for Nigeria.

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