By Abujah Racheal
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says Africa needs strong National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs) to mitigate infectious disease outbreaks caused by climate change and biological weapons.
Ihekweazu said this at the 5th African Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) and Biosecurity, organised by Global Emerging Pathogens Treatment Consortium on Wednesday in Abuja.
The three-day conference has “Climate Change and Coflict: Implication for emerging infectious diseases and biosecurity in Africa as its theme.
The event aims to discuss and make impact on changing the climate on EID and Biosecurity in Africa, identify regional and international opportunities for collaboration in EID and Biosecurity research.
The NCDC boss, who spoke on the role of national public health institutes in response to increasing biosecurity and climate change threats, said that a public health event could go from local to global very rapidly.
He noted that global health security could only be assured by a local health protection.
He stressed the need for a strong surveillance and response system managed by skilled public health experts.
Ihekweazu, however, said that NCDC would continue to work with other African countries to demonstrate heightened level of preparedness to disease outbreaks.
The Director-General of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr Rufus Ebegba, reassured Nigerians of the agency’s ability to effectively manage biosafety matters and prevent any adverse effects on human health, animals, plants and the environment.
Ebegba, who was represented by the Head of Planning Research and Statistics of NBMA, Mrs Bello Scholatica, said that the agency would continue to establish and strengthen the institutional arrangement on bio safety matters in the nation and the African continent.
The NBMA boss said that the agency would continue to ensure it safeguarded human health, biodiversity and the environment from any potential adverse effects of genetically modified organism, including genetically modified food safety.
He added that the agency would ensure continued safety of Nigerians in the use of modern biotechnology and provide holistic approach to the regulation of genetically modified organisms.
“We will continue to provide measures for effective public participation, public awareness and access to information in the use and application of modern biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.
“We will also ensure that the use of genetically modified organisms does not have adverse impact on socio-economic interest either at the community or national level,” he said.
The Co-chair of the conference, Prof. Morenike Ukpong-Folayan, said that the theme of the conference is apt.
She said Africa had continued to witness devastating consequences of infectious disease transmission such as the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ukpong-Folayan said that to understand and respond to infectious disease transmission dynamics, it would require collective efforts and exploitation of the wealth of technological advances at Africa’s disposal.
She said that in the process, the continent would have to safeguard the dignity and human rights of all, noting that relationship between climate change and shifting infectious disease transmission patterns could not be presenlty ignored.
She said the transmission patterns were needed for continuous investigation of those complex relationships so that the continent could effectively predict future disease outbreaks.
“We trust that this conference will provide the space for rigorous debate and personal growth.
“The rapid degradation of our environment in the form of deforestation, climate change and accumulation of toxins in water tables and the atmosphere, coupled with rapidly expanding megacities is creating opportunities for EIDs and biosecurity threats in Africa,” she added.
She explained that Africa was experiencing increased frequency and range of EIDs, saying that Ebola, Lassa Fever, Yellow Fever, Monkey Pox, Cholera, Bird Flu and Meningitis, were all ample good examples.
Ukpong-Folayan noted that shrinking natural resources was creating human competition for water and grazing, leading to demographic conflicts.
She stated that the conference was an academic and policy-based meeting that would address response mechanism to biological threats and increasing incidences of EIDs from a continental perspective.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that participants at the conference included representatives from the biotechnology, biosecurity and biobanking industries; health economists; bioethicists and engineers. (NAN)