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By Martha Leah Nangalama

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Image may be subject to copyright
Image may be subject to copyright

Image may be subject to copyright

Image may be subject to copyright

Image may be subject to copyright

CHANGE OF GUARDS – The East Africa Community (EAC) is a regional grouping of the countries of South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Through the EAC Treaty, the said countries agreed to closer cooperation in social, political and economic spheres. Article 118 of the said treaty stipulates close cooperation in the field of health services and research. Specifically, article 118(a) stipulates joint action towards the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases and to control pandemics and epidemics of communicable and  vecto-borne diseases. 

With support from the Rockfeller Foundation, in 2000, the East African Integrated Disease Surveillance Network (EAIDSNet) was formed in response to fragmented disease interventions and weak laboratory capacity. Its core mandate was to develop and strengthen communication channels for Integrated cross-border disease surveillance and efforts. 

In 2004, it was formally adopted by the EAC through the Council of Ministers and it became an integral part of the mandate of the disease prevention and control unit of the EAC Department of Health that was established within the EAC Secretariat to support a regional health agenda.

By 2006, EAIDSNet, had received more funding from Rockfeller Foundation that enabled EAC to refocus more of its efforts on strengthening EAC preparedness to respond to regional and global infectious disease threats.

It was in this regard that the EAC Health Research Commission (EACHRC) was established in 2007.  In 2008, the EAC began the implementation of of a regional project to strengthen cross-border human and and animal disease Prevention and Control in the EAC partner states. 

EACHRC was operationalized in 2015 with a core mandate of adopting measures in preparedness for and control of disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. Since its establishment, member countries have been alternating in hosting annual East African Health and Scientific conferences. On the sidelines of those conferences, there has always been International exhibitions and trade fairs to showcase health related activities and products from research, academia, healthcare services and the health sector in general. Uganda, in particular, has hosted such conferences twice (2007 and 2015) under the themes;

 “Investment in health through strengthening of regional health systems, institutions towards the prevention and control of communicable and non communicable diseases”,  and “Responding to health challenges in East Africa”

To realize its vision, EAIDSNet  partnered with East Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC) to implement the WB funded East African Public Health Laboratory Network Project (EAPHLN) to improve regional disease surveillance. In collaboration with East African states and WHO, in 2015 EAIDSNet, implemented a US $50M World Bank funded EAPHLNP and lobbied for more funding from member States. The intervention was a response to major gaps in disease prevention and control efforts in health systems across East Africa. The realization that regional approach was crucial to effective disease control efforts, the core mandate of EAPHLNP was to build capacity for diagnosis and surveillance of communicable diseases in the EAC states. The arrangement was to enable member States to engage each other in coordinated and synchronized implementation of interventions for preparedness and response to threats of public health concerns. 
In order to ensure cross-border disease surveillance and joint outbreak investigations, 25 satellite laboratories were supposed to be set up around border areas in the East African region. 

In 2017, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development offered support to the EAC Secretariat for a project for improving capacity in pandemic preparedness in the region.  Dubbed “One Health”, the GTZ implemented project deprived its title from an international community cross-border sectoral, integrative and management approach initiative. It viewed human, animals, the environment and health as a whole and address of the source of all risks. It aimed at preventing and combating infectious diseases promoted by migration and cross-border trade. It was a response to lack of interdisciplinary approach, regional strategies and skills in pandemic preparedness. Regional policy framework for pandemic preparedness had simply written on paper without implementation. The project advises the Secretariat on integrating the One Health approach – One Health curriculum on pandemic preparedness for post graduates to train urgently needed experts. It contributes to a uniform, effective, responsible and balanced approach to pandemic preparedness at regional levels. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the EAC member States have had their share of the scourge as follows:
                                 POSITIVE.      DEATHS
Kenya                           179.                  6
Tanzania.                       32                   1
Uganda.                          53.                  –
Rwanda.                       105.                  –
Burundi.                          03.                  –
South Sudan.                 02.                  –

All these countries have effectively adhered to the WHO guidelines of hand washing, sanitizing and social distancing, among others. However, each of these countries has adopted separate extra precautionary measures to deal with the pandemic. 

Kenya has declared a night curfew but has left all other social and economic activities to continue during the day. Kenya announced tax exemption, salary cuts on presidential appointees among other measures to mitigate the effects. President Uhuru Kenyatta has made it clear that a total lockdown is catastrophic and would be a last resort option. 

In Tanzania, social and economic activities are continuing save for closure of educational institutions amidst government mass education on precautionary measures.

Rwanda has maintained a partial lockdown and the government is distributing relief aid to the vulnerable through the Ministry of Local Government.  Rwanda has also released 1182 prisoners in a bid to reduce overcrowding.   

In Uganda, Museveni has declared a total lockdown and unleashed his security forces who are brutally mismanaging the few remaining social services. He is exploiting the golden opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to realign his political and economic failures. He is enjoying his long craved for rule by decrees while at the same time pursuing a repressive agenda against the traditionally politically hostile urban dwellers and the opposition in general. 

Owing to the West being preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, Museveni is having a free day in unleashing his repression without anyone standing in his way. There is little information about the extent of preparedness by Burundi and South Sudan. However, what is clear is that to some extent, the figures of positive cases is determined by the level of healthcare services of respective countries. 

Recently, the EAC Secretariat issued  a statement outlining its response. EAC announced a Regional Coordination Committee (RCC) to oversee communication and risk assessment as well as logistics.  EAC announced a deployment of Four Wheel vehicles fitted with mobile laboratories and ICT equipment and all necessary consumables to conduct tests for Ebola and COVID-19 for each member state.  Some two representatives from Uganda to the East African Legislative Assembly were ‘hired’ to suggest that owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the early 2021 general elections in Uganda ought to be postponed.  Where is the EAC Secretariat, and its Health Unit in particular, to initiate a coordinated regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic as apposed to the current fragmented responses by individual countries?? 


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