Potsdam Spring Dialogues 2015

CC BY-ND 2.0 European Commission DG ECHO/flickr

Disease Control and Prevention in Africa:
Current Reforms to Strengthen Regional Cooperation

26-27 March 2015, Potsdam

Conference language: English

- Participation on personal invitation only - 

The Ebola outbreak which began in Guinea in West Africa around a year ago has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. According to the WHO, more than 8,000 people have died in the outbreak so far (as at 6 January 2015). The epidemic also poses a threat to food security in the affected region and is worsening its economic situation. In September 2014, in response to the crisis in the affected countries and the threat of a further spread of the disease, it was discussed by the UN Security Council – the first time that the Council has regarded a disease outbreak as a threat to international peace and security. Antibiotic resistance, neglected and poverty-related diseases and Ebola will also feature on the agenda at the G7 Summit in Bavaria in early June 2015.

According to experts all over the world, the reason why this latest Ebola outbreak has had such devastating effects is not only the high virulence of the pathogen itself, but also – and above all – the overstretched health systems in the affected countries, with poorly equipped hospitals and a shortage of appropriately skilled staff, combined with a lack of awareness across broad sections of society and largely uncoordinated disease control. Regional integration can play a key role in addressing these issues in future. As early as 2005, the WHO, in its International Health Regulations, urged member states to improve their transnational cooperation in this area.

The African Union (AU) and some regional organisations have now responded. Ahead of the 2015 AU Summit, a taskforce met in Addis Ababa in autumn 2014 to discuss key priorities for the establishment of an African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, to be functioning by mid 2015. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is also planning to set up its own Regional Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The West African Health Organisation (WAHO) was established some years ago and aims to promote a collective and strategic response to health problems in the region through the harmonisation of the policies of the member states, pooling of resources, and cooperation with one another and with others. And in Southern Africa, leaders met at an extraordinary summit in summer 2014 and pledged to adopt more intensive prevention and control measures. There are plans to set up a fund here to provide member states with immediate financial assistance in a health emergency.

The Potsdam Spring Dialogues will examine existing and new initiatives on an Africa-wide and regional level and will discuss more effective ways of preventing communicable diseases and curbing outbreaks in future. We will also look at experience from other regions of the world and at the role and possible contribution of international actors (e.g. the WHO and non-governmental organisations).