24 March 2022 | Abuja – Strengthening Nigeria's Capacity to Respond to Public Health Emergencies
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is primarily tasked to lead the country’s efforts to develop, strengthen and maintain its core capacities to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). As Nigeria’s national public health institute (NPHI), NCDC's activities are aligned with the regional, continental, and global agenda for health security.
As seen with this pandemic, the devastating effect of public health emergencies on the health and livelihoods of citizens cannot be overemphasised. As the Government of Nigeria continues to build on lessons from the COVID-19 response, the NCDC Director-General - Dr Ifedayo Adetifa has reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to continue to invest in our national health security as part of its contributions to all efforts aimed at building a resilient health system that will protect the health of every Nigerian.
Dr Adetifa gave these remarks while receiving a delegation from the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI), led by the Director-General, Professor Roma Chilengi, and colleagues from the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) who are supporting the national public health institutes (NPHI) in both countries. During an official visit to the NCDC Headquarters in Abuja, discussions were held to agree to actions towards the establishment of a peer-to-peer exchange programme to foster learning between both Nigerian and Zambian NPHIs.
Exchange visits are intended to benefit all participants through an open exchange of ideas, knowledge, and best practices. The host organisation expects to gain as much from the experience as the visitors, if not more. Activities include but are not limited to seminars, physical and/or virtual exchange visits, coaching or mentoring, peer assessment, peer support groups or collaborative projects.
The visit presented a unique opportunity for the leadership of both NPHIs to discuss their progress, challenges, and priority areas for strengthening institutional capacity to deliver on their shared mandates. These included enhancing epidemic preparedness and response, strengthening One Health coordination, and expansion of genomic surveillance capacity. In 2020, NCDC’s National Reference Laboratory was selected by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) as one of eight regional reference sequencing laboratories for COVID-19 and other emerging pathogens in the African region.
Highlighting the importance of strong South-South collaboration to ensure global health security, the NCDC Director-General said:
“A threat in one country is a threat to all therefore National Public Health Institutes are not meant to operate in silos. This visit is valuable to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and we trust it proves significant to the Zambia National Public Health Institute in strengthening our capacities to protect our people and the world from threats to public health.”
During their official visit to NCDC between 13th – 18th March 2022, the delegation from the ZNPHI met with Heads of Departments and staff to learn and observe public health activities carried out at the agency’s headquarters. These included a simulation exercise tagged ‘Exercise Keep Pushing (IV)’, coordinated out of the NCDC’s Incident Coordination Centre and run simultaneously in six states. The two-day functional simulation exercise organised by NCDC and supported by UKHSA was conducted to assess the capacity of Public Health Emergency Operations Centers (PHEOC) at the national and sub-national levels to coordinate their response to public health emergencies.
The recently appointed Director-General of the Zambia NPHI, Prof Chilengi, who also serves as the Zambian presidential COVID-19 Advisor in his response, reinforced the Zambian government’s commitment to ensuring health security in line with Africa CDC’s strategic objective of promoting regional collaboration and coordination.
“It has been an eye-opening privilege to be hosted by NCDC and participate in their Keep Pushing simulation exercise. We watched with great admiration the enthusiasm and energy of our Nigerian counterparts. We are surely going back home carrying with us the lessons we have learned observing our colleagues. We are grateful to the UKHSA for making this visit possible for the Zambian team, and we are optimistic that this event has sparked a long-lasting and direct link between NCDC and ZNPHI”
Speaking on Nigeria’s efforts to improve capacity for emergency coordination, the UKHSA IHR Strengthening Programme, Manager Dr Sam Collins said:
“It has been a pleasure for UKHSA to accompany NCDC on its journey to improve Nigeria’s preparedness for and response to public health emergencies. Over the past four years, we have worked closely with the national and subnational Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) network to strengthen capacities and capabilities and test these through a series of exercises. We have witnessed improvements at every exercise. The NCDC and the EOC network are well-positioned to build on these gains as we continue our partnership. The knowledge exchange with ZNPHI has been a great opportunity to share the journey so far and to hear the experience of a fellow African NPHI”
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is the country’s national public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection, and response to public health emergencies. The Bill for an Act to establish NCDC was signed into law in November 2018, by President Muhammadu Buhari. The NCDC’s mission is, ‘To protect the health of Nigerians through evidence-based prevention, integrated disease surveillance and response, using a One Health approach, guided by research and led by a skilled workforce.
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Dr Yahya Disu
Head of Communications
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control