Global Partners Host Workshop to Bolster NPHIs in West Africa

Global public health leaders met in Abuja, Nigeria March 11-14, 2024 to accelerate the establishment and strengthening of national public health institutes (NPHIs) in West Africa. The gathering was hosted by the West African Health Organization (WAHO), Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Nigeria Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC), and the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) and was attended by delegations from Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte D’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libera, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

“The establishment and strengthening of National Public Health Institutes in West Africa is a shared priority for WAHO, Africa CDC, U.S. CDC, and IANPHI,” said Dr. Virgil Lokossou, the Executive Director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Regional Center for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCSDC). The meeting, he said, would enhance health security in the region.

The workshop focused on three main areas: sharing lessons learned from established NPHIs and those working to establish an NPHI in West Africa; exploring challenges and bottlenecks for the establishment of NPHIs; and sharing strategies and recommendations to overcome the challenges of establishing NPHIs. 

Ellen Whitney, director of IANPHI’s U.S. Office, spoke about challenges that NPHIs face, as well as enabling factors that promote the establishment and strengthening of NPHIs. IANPHI supports communications between NPHIs and facilitates peer-to-peer learning among members and prospective members. IANPHI also provides comprehensive tools and guides for emerging, new, and existing NPHIs. Ms. Whitney reflected, “It’s remarkable that all participants whether from nascent or well established NPHIs had an enormous amount to contribute as well as benefitted from the workshop.”

Dr. Kerton Victory, U.S. CDC Regional Workforce Development Technical Advisor for West Africa, said that experiences with African, Latin American, and Asian NPHIs have revealed that facilitators often include a supportive political environment which can mean having key leaders as champions who have a vision for the NPHI and advocate for resources. Nascent NPHIs must have multi-level leadership support to provide visibility, credibility, and ample communications as well as mandate governance and change management that gather technical functions and related infrastructure under appropriate functions and systems.

Opening sessions allowed NPHIs to share their experiences on developing relationships with ministries of health, the legal frameworks of NPHIs, national-subnational relationships, plus NPHIs’ work in emergencies, financing, partnership, and IHR compliance. Later sessions had participants work together in peer groups according to their NPHI’s stage: established, recently established, or nascent. Participants in each group developed stage appropriate action plans and timelines as well as identified specific support needed from international partners.

Dr. Buba Manjang, director of public health in the Gambia’s Ministry of Health, noted that the workshop brought the steps of establishing an NPHI in his country into focus. “When I go back to the Gambia, we can kick-start the process.” 

Paul Kennedy, a health systems policy advisor for the NPHI of Liberia, commented that the workshop was “very necessary” because it helped address the challenges that NPHIs face when trying to coordinate their work with ministries of health. He says the workshop gave people from emerging NPHIs a chance to see ahead and learn from mistakes that more established NPHIs have already made. “I’m glad we have partners here like WAHO, Africa CDC, IANPHI, and WHO,” Kennedy said. “They provide a lot of catalytic technical support to national institutions.”

Dr. Raji Tajudeen, acting deputy director general of Africa CDC, told the workshop participants that NPHIs are a critical priority for Africa CDC. Between 2017 and 2024, the number of African Union member states with NPHIs grew from 14 to 23 out of 55. Dr. Tajudeen said “Africa CDC is committed to ensuring that every Africa Union member state has a strong NPHI to bolster national, regional, and global health.”

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