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Kenya’s community-centered response system highlighted in new report showing how countries successfully beat infectious disease outbreaks before they became epidemics

April 28, 2021

New report highlights how African leadership helped beat infectious disease outbreaks before they became epidemics,

Dr Asha Mohammed, Secretary General of Kenya Red Cross

Last year, a single outbreak of deadly infectious disease travelled around the world, changing life as we know it. But every year, there are many near misses—outbreaks that are successfully controlled before they become epidemics. Today, Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, released a first-of-its kind interactive digital report highlighting “Epidemics That Didn’t Happen” to show how the trajectory of an outbreak can be altered when a country invests in and prioritizes preparedness combined with swift strategic action.

Epidemics that Didn’t Happen was developed by Resolve to Save Lives to highlight how investing in and prioritizing preparedness and response systems, such as community vaccination and vaccination programs, can save millions of lives and trillions of dollars. As governments contend with the ongoing devastation of COVID-19—and look for lessons for the next pandemic, the report serves as a call to action to global leaders. The world can learn from the experience that African countries have had with infectious diseases, including COVID-19, Ebola and monkeypox.

Kenya’s community-centered approach to the anthrax outbreak highlighted in the report serves as a lesson to global governments and health leaders on how to respond to future health threats more efficiently. 

“The strength of Kenya Red Cross’s community-based surveillance system, along with its community-engagement work, has been invaluable for building support for and trust in emergency preparedness systems,” said Dr Asha Mohammed, Secretary General of Kenya Red Cross. “Our case study in the Epidemics That Didn’t Happen report demonstrates that through effective surveillance and risk communication, an anthrax outbreak was contained in Kenya.”

The case studies described in the new report show that devastating human and economic losses can be avoided with modest investments, improved health systems, and better coordination and communication by determined leaders who put structures in place to find, stop and prevent infectious disease outbreaks before they spread. And although the story of containing COVID-19 has largely been one of failure, countries including Kenya, Mongolia and Senegal mounted effective responses that reinforce and act upon lessons drawn from earlier outbreaks. The case studies illustrate different aspects of effective public health programs, including: 

  1. Building community trust: How Kenya controlled a deadly anthrax outbreak
  2. A risk-based response: How protective actions stopped yellow fever in Brazil
  3. Effective surveillance: How Uganda detected cases of Ebola at the border
  4. Rapid response teams at the ready: Nigeria’s approach to containing monkeypox
  5. Good governance matters: How Senegal saved lives through government action and early testing
  6. Preemptive action: How an early, strategic response in Mongolia averted a COVID-19 nightmare
  7. COVID-19 Cooperation: Africa’s cohesive, continent-wide response to the pandemic
  8. Investment in public health saves lives: Vietnam’s COVID-19 response is proof.

“This is our now or never moment to invest in public health, to prevent the next pandemic, and ensure that as a world, we are never again so underprepared as we were with COVID-19,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former CDC Director and current President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Epidemics don’t have to spread uncontrollably and cause devastating loss of life. Epidemics That Didn’t Happen highlights the great work of public health professionals from around the world and shows that if we work together, led by science, we can make the world a much safer and healthier place.” 

These successes demonstrate what works: strong preparedness systems and decisive responses supported by good governance. When countries can prepare and respond appropriately, even if not perfectly, their communities, neighbors and ultimately the world are safer for it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need to work together at the global, regional, country and local levels to build a more resilient response to future health emergencies. It has revealed gaps and weaknesses across high-, middle- and low-income countries. Among the key lessons highlighted from successful responses to public health emergencies: 

  • Improve governance to prioritize public health emergencies and address equity gaps
  • Invest in preparedness response and technical assistance 
  • Learn from and adapt effective responses from other diseases and other areas
  • Prioritize early warning and response systems by adopting the “7-1-7” goal by being able to identify any new suspected outbreak within seven days of emergence, start to investigate the event within one day and report and begin response to it then, and mount an effective response within seven days.

“All countries can and must improve their systems for preparedness and the quality of their response,” said Dr. Emmanuel Agogo, Nigeria Country Representative at Resolve to Save Lives. “The actions highlighted in the report save lives and can fundamentally alter the trajectory of future outbreaks and pandemics.”
The case studies were developed with support from health ministries and global health organizations including, Kenya Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Infectious Diseases Institute, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health, Pan American Health Organization and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  

About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and preventing epidemics. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.0

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