Trust and communication are critical for laying the foundation of public health preparedness and response, President Paul Kagame has said.
Kagame was speaking yesterday at a health security roundtable discussion themed; “Health in Crisis – Who Cures?".
The roundtable discussion was part of the annual Munich Security Conference taking place in Munich, Germany.
The conference seeks to build trust and contribute to peaceful resolution of conflicts by engaging the international security community.
The President said that going by the experience in epidemics such as the Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of West Africa, a key lesson was the need for trust, communication and good data.
Highlighting lessons from the occurrences, he said that despite the insecurity in DRC, the response was effective as there was capacity among health workers as well as their ability to relate to the population.
“The Ebola outbreak in, for example, West Africa struck nations at peace. By contrast, the current outbreak in DRC has remained contained, despite insecurity there. One difference is that health workers in DRC have experience with detection and containment, and they seem able to relate effectively to the population.”
Despite being at peace, West Africa suffered worse from the epidemic as basic preconditions such as communication and trust were lacking, the President said.
“So there is that close link. In West Africa, the disease went unrecognised for months, and there was a trust deficit in public health messages that hindered response. As a result, the ultimate cost ran into the tens of billions, according to some estimates.”
Going forward, the president said there was need for collaboration between international and national stakeholders.
“We have to think rigorously about the link between conflict and epidemics, and as has also been stated, how the global effort can come together with national efforts and support each other,” he said, adding “I think it has been demonstrated how that would benefit everyone.”
Giving insight into Rwanda’s preparedness to deal with epidemics, the Head of State said the government has deployed community health workers across the country to track priority diseases on a daily basis.
“In Rwanda, we have 60,000 community health workers deployed around the country. This allows the Ministry of Health to track 23 priority diseases on a daily basis, using an Electronic Epidemic Surveillance and Response System (eISDR),” he explained.
Other preparedness initiatives in Rwanda include integrating the core of the World Health Operating International Health Regulations into strategic planning.
“In response to the DRC outbreak, Rwanda updated its Ebola preparedness plan. Readiness rose from 55 per cent to 84 per cent from May 2018 to January 2019, as assessed by WHO,” he said.
To ensure readiness, Kagame said, Rwanda has conducted multiple Ebola simulation exercises involving a wide range of public institutions as well as security agencies.
The University of Rwanda also has an advanced field epidemiology training programme with CDC based on the One Health model, whereby human, animal, and agricultural disease threats are assessed in tandem.
This, he disclosed, was testimony that epidemic preparedness is not a sole preserve of well-off countries.
“This is to show that it is within the means of countries at Rwanda’s income level, working with WHO and other partners and institutions, to provide adequate health emergency preparedness,” he added.
The gathering convened over 450 high-profile and senior decision-makers as well as thought-leaders from around the world, including heads of state, ministers, leading personalities of international and non-governmental organisations, high-ranking representatives of industry, media, academia, and civil society.
Experts from across the globe also discussed the future of arms control and cooperation in defence policy.
The intersection between trade and international security will be examined, as will the effects of climate change and technological innovations on the international security.
Among the participants at the summit include; German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Egyptian President and African Union Chairperson Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, United States Vice President Mike Pence and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani among others.