Nigeria in Context — defining NCDC’s regional role in West Africa
Nigeria is one of 15 countries that makes up West Africa and contributes about 50% of the region’s population. In terms of the work that we do in infectious disease epidemiology, the second point is much more relevant than the first. Any effort to control infectious diseases in West Africa, that does not prioritise work in Nigeria, is unlikely to meet its objectives. Despite the size of the region, the diversity of cultures and languages, we must engage across West Africa.
As the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, I was also asked in January 2017 to be the Acting Director of the Regional Centre for Disease Control (RCDC), while the recruitment process for a substantive director takes place. I am often asked — “How does the NCDC work together with the RCDC and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC)?”. In this blog, I write to describe our role across these three spheres and how this will define our activities in the near future.
In June, we spent a lot of time defining our role in the West African region — as a Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC), and as the Economic Community of West African State’s (ECOWAS) Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCDC), vis-à-vis our primary role as the National Public Health Institute for Nigeria
The Africa CDC was formally launched on the 31st January 2017, with a vision for a safer, healthier, integrated and prosperous Africa, in which Member States can efficiently prevent disease transmission, implement surveillance, and always be prepared to respond effectively to public health threats and outbreaks. For the Africa CDC, their Regional Collaborating Centres (RCCs) are the key institutions that will provide a platform for communication and information sharing, linking to assets in the region and always prepared to respond effectively to health threats and outbreaks. Nigeria was selected by the ACDC to serve as the Regional Collaborating Centre for the West African region.
A unique position for Nigeria and the West African region is that ours is the only region that already has a Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control, making it easier to integrate the new ACDC’s RCC into the existing RCDC. West African countries had recognised the need to provide the region with all the capacities needed for surveillance, early warning, laboratory services, training and research for disease surveillance and control.
On the 9th of June 2017, we hosted a tripartite meeting between 1.) The Government of Nigeria (through the Federal Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), 2.) The African Union/Africa CDC, and 3.) The West African Health Organisation (WAHO) to consolidate this relationship. The meeting which was chaired by the Honorable Minister of State for Health had the leadership of all three organisations present. We brainstormed across several areas including governance arrangements, establishment of laboratory networks, identification of Rapid Response Teams, strengthening our ‘One Health’ approach and other technical matters. One key output from this meeting was our joint decision for the ECOWAS RCDC to also serve as the Africa CDC RCC. While this new regional centre will be a different institution from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) where it currently sits, there will be a very close working relationship between them. The recruitment process for the first set of substantive positions in the RCDC is currently going on and will be concluded in the next few months. I am keenly looking forward to supporting the development of this new regional body. As always, the Honourable Minister has been extremely supportive of the work that we are doing at the NCDC and recommended that we share our experience widely.
On the 22nd and 23rd of June 2017, we hosted ACDC’s first meeting in West Africa. It was a pleasure to welcome colleagues from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Capo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Senegal and Togo. All 54 participants at the meeting were representatives of different Ministries/Agencies of Health, National Institutes of Public Health, Medical Research Institutions, Ministries of Agriculture, Non-Governmental Organisations, and international partners. It was amazing to hear the great work happening across the region. The two-day meeting provided invaluable opportunities for networking, group work and experience sharing. At the end of the meeting, we developed a consensus on the governance structure and framework of collaboration of the RCC/ECOWAS-RCSDC and agreed on priority public health activities for the region. For us at the NCDC, it was a great learning experience, listening to the activities of established medical research institutes such as the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit in The Gambia, as well as sharing our own experience in building the NCDC. Whilst accepting that we can be a stronger Centre, it was a proud moment for us in terms of sharing our evolution experience with other countries without a National Public Health Institute. It is clear that many other countries in West Africa are looking forward to learning from our experience.
Over the last one year, we have continued to strengthen our position to serve the West African region and the African continent, as we recognise that diseases know no borders. We are currently working with the German development agency- Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to implement a Regional Programme Support to Pandemic Prevention in the ECOWAS Region. In addition, we agreed to establish five key Technical Working Groups for the RCC/ECOWAS-RCSDC covering the areas of One Health and Anti-Microbial Resistance; Laboratory surveillance and information; Bio-banking; National Public Health Institutes/Environment; Communication/Advocacy for public and private sector engagement; Human Resource and Research.
We have received great political commitment from the Nigerian Government in support of the operationalisation of the RCDC. This was re-iterated by the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo during his address at the opening of the 18th Ordinary Meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Assembly of Health Ministers on the 16th of June, 2017. In his speech, he said, “Public Health Emergency Preparedness should be a task that we are determined to achieve. The establishment of the Regional Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (RCDC) is therefore an excellent idea in building capacity and ensuring effective surveillance, detection and prompt response to disease outbreaks. Nigeria, is ready to give the necessary support towards ensuring adequate take off of the RCDC”.
The support from the Acting President encourages us to continue our work towards a national Centre that will effectively protect the health of Nigerians, and contribute to ensuring the health security of all Africans. We are building an NCDC that will not only be a source of pride for the country, but for the continent as well.