Building stronger border management capacity in Ebola-impacted region

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 January 2015

ebola lockdown3The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is planning to step up its support for building cross-border public health capacity and safe migration systems in West Africa to contain Ebola and other infectious diseases.

The prevention of cross-border transmission has been identified as crucial in order to end the ongoing Ebola epidemic.

IOM’s Border Health Strategic Framework in Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa aims to bring countries in the region together to meet this objective.

Recently returned from an assessment mission to the region, IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies Mohammed Abdiker said: “Throughout the Ebola-impacted area of West Africa, IOM together with its partners and regional governments have already made great strides in this direction. We look forward to expanding our response.”

Reducing the importation of communicable diseases underpins most well-established public health practices associated with border management.

But traditional verification of medical records, history of risk exposure, and the detection of symptoms is insufficient, when informal cross-border trade, transnational communities, and porous borders exist.

The rapidity and ease of today’s travel are new challenges to cross-border disease control and require the adoption of new, innovative, systemic and broad responses.

Regional human mobility can perpetuate cross-border transmission, while at the same time the reopening of borders is essential for the resilience and eventual economic recovery of the affected countries.

IOM’s approach to health and border management, adapted to the EVD context, aims to step up the prevention, detection and response to infectious diseases at points of origin, transit, destination and return.

ebola lockdown - shoppingBut the focus is not only at international crossing points – airports, ports and land borders – but also travel routes and hot-spots where people gather along the way.

Monitoring is essential through local health systems, in local communities, in gathering points such as markets and workplaces, and by communicating with migrants and travellers themselves.

Well-managed borders that are sensitive to health needs, can facilitate access to health services on both sides of the border, while ensuring that there is no risk of transmission.

Starting with a child in rural Guinea in December 2013, Ebola spread quickly against a background of high population mobility, urbanization, unsafe cultural burial practices and weakened health systems.

Since September 2014, IOM has been working closely with partners in West Africa to strengthen the capacity of national health and border management structures to prevent and contain EVD transmission within borders.

With improved health control and surveillance systems at borders, the promotion of healthy behaviours, case isolation and increased referral capacity, considerable progress has been achieved.

“Strong public health and safe migration systems are crucial for West Africa,” said Dr. Davide Mosca, Director of IOM’s Migration Health Division. “They will help to contain Ebola and other infectious diseases of public health concern from ever again becoming a scourge across the region.”

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