Zambia hosts African Partner Outbreak Response Alliance symposium

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Nearly 30 African militaries attended the 2023 edition of the African Partner Outbreak Response Alliance (APORA) 2023 symposium in Lusaka, Zambia, with the support of US Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF).

Key speakers at the forum, held between 8 and 12 May, included high level representatives from Zambia’s defence and health ministries, and senior US diplomats and military and government officials.

Welcoming the military medical experts was Zambia’s director general of the Defence Force Medical Services, Brigadier General Dr Levy Muchemwa, who said this year’s theme was ‘Preparing African Militaries for Better Engagement in National Risk Advance to Outbreaks and Disasters.’

US ambassador to Zambia, Michael Gonzales, said, “in an increasingly globalized world, where disease can spread quickly, we must now, more than ever work to develop a robust plan to prevent outbreaks from becoming pandemics.” In follow up, Zambia’s director general of the National Public Health Institution, professor Roma Chilengi, stressed the role of armed forces in advance rapid response planning. He said despite ongoing wars it is “the solemn duty of the defence forces to protect” civilians.

For such a collaborative effort to succeed, Zambia’s acting Home Affairs and Internal Security permanent secretary Ronald Misapa said “collaborations between militaries and all stakeholders are fundamental” to effectively avert outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Permanent secretary in Zambia’s Ministry of Health, Dr George Sinyangwe, told participants that the African Union advocates for armed forces’ responsibility in outbreak response. In explaining America’s approach, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) representative, Marie Kokotajlo, emphasized how America provides civilian support. She said the US Department of Department Defence, “in collaboration with our partners around the world, […] support essential humanitarian services to civilian populations.”

Closing the APORA 2023, its president, Zambian Colonel Julius Nwobegahay, said, “all the participants that I’ve met here are quite engaged. Everybody’s ready. Experience-sharing has been marvelous at the end of the day. I wish that all the participants when they go back to home countries, they should be able to set up a rapid response team.”

There was diversity of military personnel attendance from Angola, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Chad, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zambia, and the United States.

The development of Rapid Response Team (RRT) Rosters was highlighted. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said, “These rosters enable countries or groups of nations to form self-sustained teams capable of immediately deploying to support outbreak responses in partner nations.”

Breakout workshops were a feature of this year’s symposium; some were facilitated by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), where “APORA members could design RRT rosters, create standard operating procedures, and implement change management strategies in their respective countries,” said AFRICOM.

Since infectious diseases are a global threat, its importance was recognized; that African militaries must develop a robust, integrated mitigation plan before an outbreak happens.

“APORA has seen significant growth since its inception, with membership expanding from 12 to 32 contributing nations. The symposium welcomed new members, including Botswana, Burundi, Malawi, Republic of Congo, and Zambia,” said AFRICOM. Membership increase is viewed as “the recognition of APORA’s valuable work and the culture of cooperation it fosters,” said AFRICOM.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe