Investing in prevention for better management and control of vector-borne disease outbreaks

Published: 9 August 2016 9:00 CET

By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC

Globalization of travel and trade, unplanned urbanization, and environmental challenges such as climate change, are having a significant impact on disease transmission across sub-Saharan Africa. Some diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya, are emerging in countries where they were previously unknown.

The recent outbreak of yellow fever in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the risk of witnessing a rapid spread of this epidemic to other neighbouring countries, motivated the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to conduct a regional training on vector-borne diseases. 

Recently hosted in South Africa, the five-day training pulled together health and disaster management managers from ten African National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as IFRC health and disaster management specialists.  

“The main focus of this training is to increase the capacities of Red Cross Red Crescent teams to respond to ongoing operations against the yellow fever outbreak in Angola and the Democratic Republic of  Congo, while emphasizing preparedness initiatives towards other countries considered at risk,” said Thierno Baldé, IFRC emergency health coordinator in Africa.

“Improving on capacities involves guiding the adoption of new strategies adapted to the present context, supported by the development of appropriate action plans which will enable National Societies to better shape their response activities against vector-borne diseases,” added Baldé.

During the training, new tools were introduced to participants, primarily to reinforce their knowledge on vector-borne diseases with a focus on yellow fever. However, key technical knowledge was also shared on diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and Zika, which are, tosome extent, also prevalent in Africa.

As members of a community-based organization, participants were concerned with the best ways for operational teams to use the most appropriate communication approaches to design their messages during social mobilization and awareness sessions in communities.  

“We were richly informed on the various approaches used by each participant National Society for community surveillance, data collection and interaction,” said Dr Balelia Wema Jean Faustin, health coordinator for the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Our diversified contexts gave us the opportunity to adopt new communication skills for our messages, community engagement and dialogue.”

“I had very little knowledge on vector-borne diseases before this training,” admitted Bernadino Colombola, programme coordinator and health director of the Angola Red Cross. “Though our volunteers are presently implementing activities in response to the ongoing yellow fever epidemic, it was essential for us to strengthen our technical capacities in order to better address the needs involved and to be well prepared for future operations on vector-borne related diseases.” 

Statistics show there are more than 1 billion cases and over 1 million deaths from vector-borne diseases globally every year. The World Health Organization reports that malaria causes more than 600,000 deaths globally every year, most of them among children under the age of five, while more than 2.5 billion people in over 100 countries are at risk of contracting dengue.

The IFRC has launched emergency appeals in response to the yellow fever outbreak, calling for 2.2 million Swiss francs and 1.4 million Swiss francs to support the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Angola Red Cross respectively, in assisting 21 million people.