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An African regional workshop titled, “Strengthening surveillance for seasonal and rapid response for pandemic influenza in the African Region” was held at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, from 3rd to 7th April, 2017.

Workshop participants in a group photograph

The workshop was a joint collaboration between NMIMR and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta as well as the World Health Organization.

The five-day workshop focused on recent Avian Influenza outbreaks in Africa, review sample collection and shipment, protocols for influenza virus detection and global platforms for influenza data sharing. It again centred on introducing tools for pandemic risk assessment (TIPRA) and emphasizes the One Health Approach for rapid response for pandemic influenza.

Expected outcomes of the workshop included reinforcement of rapid response and control measures for avian influenza for a better understanding of the risk assessment process for pandemic influenza and improved networking on influenza surveillance in the African Region.

Welcome Ceremony
A short ceremony was conducted to welcome all the participants.

The delegates were first welcomed by Prof. William Ampofo (Head of National Influenza Centre – NIC, Ghana) to Ghana and to the five days workshop which promised to be educative and knowledge centred.

Prof. Kwadwo Ansah Koram, Director of the Institute also addressed participants and gave them a brief history of the institute and its mandate to conduct research into diseases of public health concern in the country and sub-region. He mentioned the provision of high level laboratory training, laboratory investigations and outbreak support for the Ghana Health Service, and post-doctoral trainings for students from various African countries. He also noted the lack of robust surveillance systems to pick up early warning signs of disease in the African region with reference to the recent Ebola outbreak. He commended WHO, CDC and the Ghana NIC for promoting One Health by inviting experts from different fields, laboratory, epidemiology and the veterinary for the workshop. He hopped that the workshop will be the beginning of long-lasting collaborations between countries and the links formed at the workshop will support the activities and plans of the new African CDC.

Dr. Owen Laws Kaluwa (WHO Country Director – Ghana) commended the great effort and partnership of the US CDC - Influenza division, WHO and the NMIMR for organizing the workshop. He indicated that, the occurrence of avian influenza outbreaks in 2006 and influenza A (H1N1) pdm 2009 triggered coordination of regional preparedness for future outbreaks. At the end of 2016, a total of 34 countries in the African region had established influenza laboratories with minimum standards that provide data to WHO and CDC. The recent outbreaks of avian influenza among poultry in Africa highlights the need for continuous operation of appropriate detection and response mechanisms. He highlighted the support for capacity building efforts to improve monitoring and detection of influenza-like-illness and severe acute respiratory infections in Ghana and the African region. He encouraged the participants to take full advantage of the learning opportunities provided by the workshop to acquire knowledge and skills that will help improve and strengthen influenza surveillance and laboratory systems in their respective countries.

Dr. Dan Baden(US CDC Country Representative)expressed his appreciation to be amongst influenza experts from various African countries to deliberate on issues regarding risk assessments and pandemic preparedness. He gave an update on the contributions of the US CDC to HIV, malaria, immunization, emergency response and influenza virus surveillance activities in Ghana and the partnership between CDC and WHO to increase influenza surveillance capacity in Africa. He concluded by stressing that, in as much as a lot of successes have been reached in the African region, a lot of work still remains. He encouraged the participants to take the opportunity to learn, share stories and experiences and form networks and partnerships to enable effective information sharing to the benefit of Africa and the world population at large.

 Closing Remarks

Friday , 7th of April marked the end of the five-day workshop.

Representing the US CDC Dr. Pamela Ching expressed their heartfelt appreciation to everyone. She hoped the participants enjoyed the workshop and were able to establish new relationships with colleague to share information.

Dr. Magdi Saaman on behalf of WHO HQ also  thanked Prof. Ampofo and his team for planning and executing a well-organized workshop. He also thanked all the participants for coming, as it was a pleasure discussing the different topics on influenza. He encouraged the participants to share what they learnt with their colleagues back at home who did not get the opportunity to participate in the workshop.

Dr. Belinda Herring WHO AFRO thanked the University of Ghana, NMIMR and Professor Ampofo for organizing and hosting a great workshop. She said it was incredibly successful and she got to learn a lot from the different countries.

Prof. William Ampofo was grateful to the participants and urged them to continue the partnership which to help build a strong influenza surveillance network and bridge the data gap in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The workshop ended with the presentation of certificates to the participants.

The workshop was attended by fifty-eight (58) participants comprising of epidemiologists, laboratory scientists and veterinarians from twenty (20) African countries namely: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania,  Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Togo , Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and  Zimbabwe.

There were eight (8) facilitators from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NMIMR. A representative from the African Society of Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) and the African CDC were also present.

A section of participants during group discussions

The five-day workshop included PowerPoint presentations, Group exercises and Case studies, Skype video presentations with sharing of good practices and experiences among the participants and facilitators.

The workshop was funded by the US CDC, WHO and ASLM with logistical support from the NMIMR Office of Research Support.

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