Zambia: Learning from Cholera Outbreak to Build a Stronger Public Health Institute

Miranda Bodfish, U.S. CDC

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Public Health Institute Program, Emergency Response and Recovery Branch (ERRB) Global Response Preparedness Team, and Division of Emergency Operations, as well as the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) met in Lusaka, Zambia in June at the request of the Ministry of Health to support the establishment of a Public Health Emergency Operations Center (PHEOC). The meetings were held to discusss the recent cholera outbreak in Zambia and the establishment of the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI). The team worked with newly-appointed ZNPHI Director, Dr. Maximillian Bweupe to apply lessons learned from the recent cholera outbreak as ZNPHI develops its emergency preparedness and response program.

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We didn't expect [the outbreak] would be so big; we mobilized ourselves and opened a cholera center here¿whatever we did here can be used to do better.

Newly appointed Director of the Zambia National Public Health Institute, Dr. Maximillian Bweupe
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Since its launch, ZNPHI serves as a focal point responsible for integrating and coordinating public health activity in Zambia and addressing the major public health problems affecting the country. With support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), ZNPHI strives to be a home for country-led HIV epidemiology, surveillance, research, and public health action. Zambia Ministry of Health and stakeholders recently finalized a 5-year strategic plan for ZNPHI, which identifies public health emergency preparedness and response as a core priority. 

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ZNPHI recently activated under the Ministry of Health to respond to a cholera outbreak.  This response was an opportunity for ZNPHI to identify its strengths and priorities as it develops a PHEOC and public health emergency preparedness response program. As a representative from the Bauleni Clinic in Lusaka remarked, “We didn’t expect [the outbreak] would be so big; we mobilized ourselves and opened a cholera center here…whatever we did here can be used to do better.” Under Dr. Bweupe’s leadership, the CDC, IANPHI, and ZNPHI team reviewed the incident management structure, key partnerships, standard operating procedures, and rapid response mechanisms to document lessons learned during the outbreak and use the lessons learned to create a path forward as ZNPHI expands its capacities. 

CDC and IANPHI will continue to support ZNPHI as it establishes its PHEOC and emergency preparedness and response program.  ZNPHI will also leverage its strong partnerships in Zambia to improve the country’s ability to detect and respond to outbreaks.  As Dr. Patrick Kangwa, Permanent Secretary of the Zambia Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit noted, “Ebola gave us an eye opener to some of the things we must do…we look forward to the capacity that will be built in the Ministry of Health.”