The two-day conference under the theme “Bioterrorism in East Africa Region; Are we ready? Examining strategies for Biosafety and Biosecurity multi-sectoral collaboration.” aimed at examining member states and or sectors strategic preparedness and response capacities and identify gaps for action.
The minister of Health Hon. Jane Ruth Aceng says Uganda is privileged to host this high-level meeting, because it’s the first time we are elevating Biosafety and Biosecurity issues at such a dedicated forum in the region, and assessing our capacities from differen6t sectors for prevention, detection and containment.
The main objectives of this conference are: to highlight the achievements in Biosafety Biosecurity implementation in the East African states. The meeting also seeks to highlight specific strategies for prevention, preparedness and containment of possible bioterrorismin East African states.
The conference will also Identify managerial and containment gaps in the East African states. As well as engaging the whole of Government and Partners in active strategic Biorisk management.
Uganda is a signatory to Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction also known as Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) treaty 1975and it is incumbent upon us to foster all relevant efforts towards this goal.
The conference will also be a good platform for member states in the region to take stock and refocus their efforts. The meeting will attract regional government ministers and directors of relevant government agencies, security experts, Researchers and the Academia.
Biosecurity is a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases in humans, animals and crops harmful pests, invasive alien species, and living modified organisms.
It is a strategic and integrated approach to analysing and managing relevant risks to human, animal and plant life and health, and associated risks for the social disruption and national security. This is based on recognition of the critical linkages between sectors, and the potential for hazards to move within and between sectors, with system-wide consequences.
‘ ‘As some of you may know, Biosafety and Biosecurity are critical components of the Global Health Security Agenda-an international partnership that aims to create a world safe and secure from infectious diseases. Recent outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases commonly spreading from animals to humans-what we call zoonoses, simply attest to how vulnerable we are. Especially considering how fatal they are, and how quickly and widely they can spread. Ebola, Marburg, Congo Crimean Fever, Rift Valley Fever, and the recent Yellow Fever outbreaks are all testimony. In less than 36 hours, these diseases can cross to the farthest corners of the world because of our interconnectedness through travels, trade, tourism, education and all.’’ Said Hon Aceng
While these diseases have largely been attributed to the interface between human, animal, and environmental ecosystems through economic activities like agriculture amidst increasing populations, the fear of bioterrorism-the deliberate use of biological agents like Ebola, Anthrax, Multi Drug Resistant strains to cause massive destruction, is another growing threat to global public health.
With the growing cases of regional terror groups, weak bio banking systems, emerging and re-emerging bioterror prone agents amidst poor animal health management systems, weak sector based containment capacities, and fragmented response abilities; the biosafety, biosecurity and field epidemiology conference could not be timelier.
Global Health Security partnerships are increasingly recognised as a good joint front to preventing and responding to these public health threats.
Launched in February 2014, more than 50 countries have endorsed it. Uganda, being one of the pioneer countries to adopt this agenda.
Uganda is one of the five countries that volunteered to serve as pilot nations for external evaluation and assessment of Global Health Security Agenda capabilities – third after Georgia and Peru; and have significantly and actively moved forward in its engagement with the GHSA development and implementation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Health Regulations – one of the key standards.
With support through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Uganda has been enhancing the capacity of public health laboratory system, diagnostic and specimen referral networks to quickly detect and respond to disease outbreaks as was the case with the recent Yellow Fever outbreak. Uganda has also enhanced existing communications and information systems for real-time reporting and outbreak response through the up-and running emergency operations center-modelled on CDC’s own Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Atlanta.
The country has also launched a two-year, training-in-service Field Epidemiology Track Program that trains Uganda’s disease detectives, similar to the U.S Epidemic Intelligence Service officers. The FETP, which enrols individuals with postmasters’ training in a health-related field, aims to equip the next generation of public health leaders with skills to manage public health challenges.
The 10 Fellows in the first FETP cohort complete training in December 2016 while the second cohort completes in December 2017. To date, these Fellows have investigated over 40 outbreaks and conducted several applied epidemiologic studies on important or emerging health problems in Uganda. Many of these studies and over-arching topics related to disease epidemics,biosafety and biosecurity will be shared during the two-day conference.