The Minister of Health, Hon Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has asked members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to work together to strengthen coordination and consultation in order to enable them mitigate some of the negative impact of the novel coronavirus on the sub-region. This, he noted, is in order to harmonise and ensure the consistency of policies and measures implemented by the various states.
Speaking at the 22nd Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Assembly of Health Ministers (AHM) in Abuja-Nigeria on November 12, 2021, Hon Agyeman-Manu noted that working together would promote flagship project of free movement, by easing restriction measures to facilitate the movement of goods, persons, capital and services, while at the same time strengthening health and sanitation measures.
He said it would also promote local production of essential medical products by taking advantage of innovation and new information technologies to improve health systems and promote research and development (R&D) to improve access to quality, essential medical products.
He added that it would also strengthen advocacy, policy dialogue and mobilise adequate resources, through sustainable partnerships to ensure food security and nutrition and strengthen partnerships to guide and support decision-makers in implementing evidence-based interventions.
The collaboration, he intimated, has become necessary due to the havoc the pandemic has wrecked on the sub region.
He explained that, aside from health, the pandemic has had a heavy toll on the economies in the sub-region, a “situation which threatens to impede our ability to sustain the response effort.”
According to the Minister, a recent report by Reliefweb, showed that the rate of the spread of COVID-19 in the ECOWAS region, and the restriction measures taken, are draining the socioeconomic system of the member states.
“According to the report, ECOWAS recorded a budget deficit of about 6.4% in 2020 after an increase of 4.7% in 2019 and 2.9% in 2018. This sharp deterioration in the region’s budget deficit is a reflection of a general situation in all the member states,” he said.
“Thus, the resultant economic recession and the swift response of governments to the COVID-19 crisis, would have a significant impact on the evolution of public debt relative to GDP of countries. Admittedly, this situation calls for concern as any economic downturn has a direct impact on expected investments in the health sector. This will certainly be disastrous in the midst of a pandemic of this magnitude,” he added.
He noted that the adverse impact, notwithstanding, the sub-region has been successful in containing the virus despite claims by sceptics that Africa did not have the ability and capacity to deal with the crisis.
“… working together, not only have we succeeded in controlling the situation, Guinea, with the support of ECOWAS and development partners, has succeeded in controlling the outbreak of Ebola and Marburg virus disease,” he added.
He cautioned that the sub-region is “not out of the woods yet, and we cannot therefore be complacent. We must continue to comply with the existing protocols until we can be certain of flattening the curve.”
The meeting discussed, among other things, Intra Action Review on West African Health Organization (WAHO’s) Covid-19 pandemic response. It also discussed, for proposed adoption, resolutions on management of health-care waste in the ECOWAS region; eradication of Neglected Tropical Diseases in the region; recognition of centres of excellence offering Master’s degrees in nursing and obstetrics science in the ECOWAS region; operationalization of the ECOWAS Regional Medicines Regulatory Agency (ECOMA); compilation of the West African Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the ECOWAS regional health indicators scorecard.
Hon Agyeman-Manu, who chaired the meeting, expressed optimism that the “reports and resolutions will give us a better insight into the huge efforts we have collectively made as a region, to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic as well as the other health challenges confronting us.”
“I am optimistic that with our continued support and availability of the requisite resources, WAHO can deliver on the mandate assigned to it by our Heads of State and Government, and the people of this region will be the better for it. We are certainly not in normal times; the stakes are obviously high, but as we have shown time and time again, ‘this too shall soon pass’, and in the end, the resilience and tenacity of our people will prevail,” he stated.
Delivering his closing remarks, Hon Agyeman-Manu further urged WAHO to address the concerns expressed by the AHM in their 2020 report, particularly, the dire staffing situation to enable the organization discharge its mandate effectively. He also encouraged member states to double their efforts to reduce maternal mortality considerably as the sub-region strives to attain the SDG target of 70 deaths per 100,000 live births. This became necessary considering the fact that despite improvement in other health outcomes, maternal mortality is still a challenge in the sub-region with over 600 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Cholera and yellow fever
In a related development, cholera and yellow fever have been reported in some countries in the sub-region, including Ghana. This came to light during the 6th Governing Board meeting of the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCSDC) held on November 10, 2021 ahead of the AHM. The meeting revealed that the epidemic situation in the region was a threat present in all Member States. The meeting, therefore, discussed plans to deal with the situation. Director of Public Health, Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe, attended the meeting on behalf of Ghana.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, the EPI Programme Manager of Ghana represented Ghana at a meeting of Heads of the National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs) and the Heads of Vaccination Programmes held on 8-9 November 2021, where he presented a report of the key issues of the sub-region’s NPHIs including high political commitment at the level of Heads of States; leveraging of existing platforms for delivering and online/electronic platforms to collect and store data on vaccination.
Earlier, Dr. Eric Nsiah-Boateng, had represented the Director for Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation of the Ministry of Health, at a Health Expert Committee meetings held on 8-9 November 2021.