For a continent much maligned for its tardiness in responding to emergency situations, African leaders, it seems, are working to do away with that reputation. And the motivation for this might be no other than Ebola, the deadly disease that recently claimed thousands of lives on the continent, from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria. On November 11, 38 ministers and officials in 16 countries from West Africa, including Nigeria converged in Dakar for the West African Regional Conference on One Health. The ministers included those of health, agriculture, and wildlife. They pledged to work together to thwart public health threats across the sub-region. The synergy comes almost three years after the outbreak of the Ebola disease in the West African region. One Health, as a strategy, “calls on policymakers and health practitioners to consider the inextricable link between human, animal, and environmental health when designing public health systems, research, and programs.” The conference, which was hosted by the World Health Organisation, WHO, Regional Office for Africa and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Commission, in collaboration with other regional and international bodies, is viewed by some analysts “as the strongest political commitment to One Health in West Africa to date.” Emerging from the parley, the officials noted in a communiqué that “the recent unprecedented Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in West Africa…infected over 28, 000 people and caused more than 11, 000 deaths and devastated national economies with losses in gross domestic product estimated at US$219 million in Sierra Leone, US$188 million in Liberia and US$184 million in Guinea.” It points out that “over 75% of the emerging and re-emerging diseases that have affected humans over the past decade have originated from animals or animal products, many of them with a potential to spread widely and to become global health security risks with major negative socioeconomic consequences.” Even with Ebola threat over, the communiqué expresses worry over “ongoing and recurring outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever and Lassa Fever within West Africa and their potential to spread to neighbouring countries ” and the fact that “none of the West African countries has achieved all of the core capacities of the International Health Regulations, IHR, 2005 as of June 2016 and the core competencies of the Performance of Veterinary Services, PVS.”
Noting this shortfall, the leaders resolved to, among others, put in place “robust national mechanisms for intersectoral coordination and partnership to facilitate the implementation of the existing global and regional initiatives, better harmonization and sharing of information among animal, human and environmental health sectors in accordance with the required One Health approach.” It remains to be seen, whether the officials will match words with action in the months and years to come.