By Collins Mtika, Lusaka, Zambia
African countries must act quickly to overcome issues and bottlenecks to improve biosafety and biosecurity for their people as they try to reposition themselves in the global health architecture, which has been constructed.
The Global Health Security Index report on 2021 shows that only two countries among the 54 that were surveyed pitched above 50 per cent in terms of biosafety and biosecurity. Malawi is ranked at number 31.
Biosafety refers to the principles, technology, and practises of containment that are used to prevent unintended exposure to biological agents. Biosafety precautions are critical in Africa for limiting the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, Lassa fever, malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. Biosecurity, on the other hand, focuses on preventing the intentional abuse or theft of biological agents or toxins that could be utilised as bioweapons or in terrorist actions.
There are several barriers to biosafety and biosecurity in Africa, ranging from a lack of resources and infrastructure to the threat of fatal diseases and bioterrorism. These challenges have a significant impact on national security, environmental preservation, and public health across the continent.
“We must do things in a different way to address the vulnerabilities in our countries. For instance, we must have appropriate laws that allow our countries to implement and comply with biosafety and biosecurity measures, “Dr Talkmore Maruta, Acting Director of Programs, African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ALSM) said.
Dr Maruta said this on Wednesday in Lusaka, Zambia during a plenary session on “Safeguarding Africa’s Health Security: Health Emergencies, biosecurity, Climate Change, and multi-sectoral response Mechanisms”.
The plenary session is part of the ongoing 3rd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA), which is taking place at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, from November 27 to 30.
The CPHIA23 is being billed as the greatest global public health event outside of the yearly World Health Assembly, with approximately 5,000 in-person delegates and an extra 20,000 virtual participants in attendance.
Director General, National Institute of Health, Ministry of Health, Mozambique, Dr Eduardo Samo said the strengthening of health systems in Africa means that countries must have data so that they build climate resilience health systems.
“Solutions must be based on evidence and building that evidence is critical. We need to use local solutions for climate resilience programmes,” Dr Samo said.
Director, of Collaborative Intelligence, WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, Sara Hersey said the World Health Organisation strategy is centred on implementing collaborative disease surveillance as part of the emergency preparedness and response framework.
The Director General and Presidential Advisor on Health, Zambia National Public Health Institute, Roma Chilengi said it is important that countries harness preparedness for emerging health threats saying the move is critical in the context of Africa repositioning itself in the global health systems.
“We cannot continue to do business as usual and expect change,” Chilengi said.