Sierra Leone: ‘Cross-Border Movements a Challenge to Preventing Communicable Diseases’

Deputy Secretary General of the Mano River Union (MRU) has observed that cross-border movements continue to be a challenge in the prevention of communicable diseases like Ebola, adding that lessons learnt in the fight against the deadly virus, cross-border co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration were critical in addressing future epidemics.

Rev. Mrs. Linda Koroma was yesterday speaking at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown during a regional workshop on the 'Security Sector and Global Health Crisis: Lessons from the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa'.

She noted that through its Fifteenth Protocol on Peace, Security and Defense, the Secretariat has established 22 joint border security and confidence building units across the sub-region.

"These units comprise security personnel (including police, army, immigration and customs officers) traditional leaders or paramount chiefs, civil society organisations, youths, women, forest guards and agricultural officers. They meet once every month to discuss security and security related issues, share intelligence in order to keep their communities safe," she said.

She said members of the units played a pivotal role in their respective border communities in bringing an end to the spread of the virus.

"Health security has now become an important component of their activities in their respective communities. These joint border units have proven to be effective platforms to foster regional cooperation and collaboration," she said.

She said it was evident that the deployment of security forces during the peak of the outbreak in the affected countries had a great impact on bringing an end to the spread of the virus.

She, however, disclosed that at the sub-regional level, there were no appropriate early warning and rapid response systems in place to assist the affected countries, thus suggesting that border communities should be trained to be vigilant and serve as effective disease surveillance officers and changes agents.

"For too long our border communities have been neglected and the longer they stay neglected our security in the sub-region remains threatened. We need to focus on these border communities to ensure that basic amenities such as educational and health facilities, water and sanitation, electricity, to name a few, are provided," she urged.

The MRU Deputy Secretary General noted that poor road infrastructure further compounds the problem of accessing border communities.

"We have put together a MRU/AfDB initiative that focuses on road infrastructure, energy, trade facilitation and ICT. This initiative will particularly benefit our border communities," she disclosed.

She said the workshop to discuss lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis from the perspective of health and security sectors, and institutions directly affected by and involved in the response to the Ebola crisis, was timely as member states have started implementing post-Ebola recovery programmes.

National Security Coordinator, Ishmeal Tarawally, said the Ebola outbreak tested the effectiveness of the country's institutions and existing structures and further enriched understanding of the true import of security and the need for cooperation and collaboration among various state institutions.

He said that in the face of an epidemic such as the Ebola Virus Disease or any disaster, it was now clear that no single institution or agency could effectively address it without the effective participation of especially the security sector.

Tarawally noted that when the Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone the level of preparedness, in terms of understanding the threat and appropriate response to be provided, was low.

"Initially, there was poor coordination and weak collaboration among government agencies. Also, the national security architecture, which was designed to manage disasters and national emergencies, was not adequately utilised. Because of its viral nature, the Ebola Virus Disease was understood to be an exclusively medical issue. It was not viewed within the context of our wider post-war definition of security, which places emphasis on human security," he said.

The ONS boss said security has become a multi-sectoral discipline and crosscutting, and that threats pose by emerging and re-emerging diseases in the post-modern time fell within the remits of the country's national security priorities.

He observed that fundamental to prevention and management of global health crisis was legislation.

"A sound legal framework with commitment to bilateral and multilateral agreements across countries sets the stage for preparation, prevention, mitigation and management of health crisis," he said.

He said lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis have triggered the security sector to explore and evaluate frameworks and to implement measures that would enable them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the health sector to better prevent, detect and contain health security emergencies or disasters.

The National Security Coordinator said building cross border networks on global health issues among MRU states and beyond has also become a security sector priority.

"The security sector will not shy away from expressing the need to strengthen structures at the chiefdom level, especially at border crossing communities," he said.

He said the health and security sectors are two important sectors that should complement each other, and that co-operation, collaboration and information sharing between the two were critical lessons they should not forget.

Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Abubakarr Fofanah said that with the human and financial costs now being counted, research and studies, now, more than ever before, are important to help establish what happened, what weaknesses were uncovered at national, regional and global response processes, and what may be done to strengthen preparedness, early warning, response processes, and what may be done to strengthen response and enhance resilience to such health crisis in the future.

He assured that his ministry would be receptive to adopting lessons learned at the workshop to help facilitate better preparedness to mitigate future epidemics through collaborative and coordinated efforts between health and security sector communities.

The workshop was organised by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, in collaboration with the Geneva Global Health Centre, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and the Geneva based JS and Associates.

Source: Concord Times.

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