Kampala, Uganda – 30th June 2023 – Members of the Public Health Risk Communication and Community Engagement, Community of Practice for Africa (PH-RCCE-CoPA) have called for countries to prioritize Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) as a key pillar of public health emergency response. The Health Promotion and Risk Communication experts representing 48 African Union (AU) member states emphasized that early community engagement is critical to ensure community ownership of public health intervention during disease outbreaks; therefore, strategies, as well as financial resources for emergency response must be decentralized and extended to cover RCCE activities.
They made the call at the closure of a 3-day technical review workshop held in Kampala, Uganda, from 27th – 29th June 2023, under the auspices of the Public Health Risk Communication Community of Practice for Africa (PH-RCCE-CoPA), which was established in May 2020 by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHOAFRO); to promote best practices, continuous learning and knowledge exchange among African countries, and to further provide strategic leadership and coordination for public health risk communication and community engagement initiatives in the continent and institutionalize PH-RCCE as an essential part of public health interventions in Africa.
At the opening of the workshop, Mr Peter Kabela, Senior Language Expert at Africa CDC, delivered a welcoming remark on behalf of Dr Benjamin Djoudalbaye, Head of Policy Health Diplomacy and Communication at Africa CDC, in which he emphasized the importance of the equitable distribution of information and engagement with communities across Africa during an outbreak. “Given the diverse culture and languages spoken across Africa, we must explore innovative ways to ensure that communication and engagement strategies are tailored to the specific needs of each community in our respective countries”, the statement noted.
With more than 200 members across the continent, the PH-RCCE-CoPA has been holding monthly knowledge and experience sharing webinars which have been instrumental in bringing RCCE experts together for peer-to-peer knowledge and experience exchange on the COVID-19 pandemic, Monkey Pox Virus, Ebola and other Public Health emergencies.
During the Kampala gathering, countries presented their unique RCCE experience while responding to multiple outbreaks; and key among the challenges highlighted were low adherence to preventive measures, vaccine hesitancy, inadequate human and financial capacity to execute RCCE activities and lack of RCCE legal framework for the sustainability of the RCCE pillar.
“In the recent past, most countries during emergencies have been focusing on strengthening Surveillance, Laboratory Systems, Logistics and Case Management with minimal focus on tackling issues that touch the hearts of the people in communities. The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa, which took nearly two years and other outbreaks that came after, taught us a great lesson about the importance of risk communication, particularly engaging and listening to the affected communities. Hence, effective Public Health awareness and engagement of the affected communities is critical in the prevention and control of epidemics.” Dr Diana Atwine, Permanent Secretary for Health, Ministry of Health Uganda, said in her remarks when she graced the event as a guest of honour to perform the official closing.
In addition to creating an avenue for the RCCE focal points and partners in the continent, Africa CDC and its partners also adopted a continental RCCE training module and organized regional RCCE refresher capacity-building workshops for the RCCE experts across the 5 African Union (AU) regions and trained over 120 RCCE experts in 2022. As the continent transitions from the emergency state of the COVID-19 response to an integrated response with other disease outbreaks, Africa CDC is taking stock of all the platforms established to support the continental COVID-19 response, to leverage these platforms for other diseases emergency response activities.
The RCCE Community-of-Practice also held its second election of Steering Committee (SC) members as a major outcome of this technical review and planning meeting. Accordingly, the four (4) new steering committee members elected by their colleagues to lead the CoP for the next two (2) years include Dr Da Costa ABOAGYE, Ghana – Chair (Western region), Mrs Sinenhlanhla JIMOH, South Africa – Co-Chair – (Southern region), Mr Lucien Emmanuel Francky IBATA, Republic of Congo – Steering Committee – (Central region) and Mr Wycliffe MATINI, Kenya – Steering Committee – (Eastern region) Representative from the Northern region will be identified soon.
Source : Africa CDC