Approximately 120 civilian and military representatives from five African nations and the United States came together in Elmina, Ghana, for an exercise to assess the current capability of the Ghanaian government to respond to a potential pandemic outbreak of influenza.
The weeklong Tabletop Exercise, which kicked off on Monday, was organized by U.S. Africa Command (Africom), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). The table top exercise will assist the Ghanaian government in assessing their pandemic influenza preparedness and also identify and validate how the Ghanaian military can work with civilian organizations to assist in the government’s pandemic response plan.
Special Assistant to the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, Brigadier General Stayce Harris, spoke of the importance and history of this year’s pandemic response tabletop exercise when she said, “Let us not forget, that the 2009 H1N1 outbreak highlighted the critical importance of a holistic approach required of governments, civil society and the military to mitigate the effects of a complex humanitarian emergency like a severe pandemic outbreak, hence, the purpose of this exercise this week.”
In the 20th century, influenza developed into a killer pandemic three times and was responsible for millions of deaths.
Harris reiterated U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. government’s dedication to helping African partner nations build pandemic response capability.
She stated, “As noted by Africa Command’s Deputy Commander for Civil-Mil Activities, at our program introduction conference in 2009, ‘Dealing with a pandemic, from planning to post operation phases, is a high priority for the United States Government.’ Consequently, one of Africa Command’s strategic objectives is ‘assisting partner nations with protecting populations from deadly contagions.'”
U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Donald G. Teitelbaum, cited his experience in countries experiencing disasters when he said, “Disasters never come alone. When a disaster strikes you can’t count on the things that you normally count on. Traffic could be snarled, cell phone circuits can be jammed. When a disaster strikes we still find ourselves sometimes getting bogged down by bureaucracy.”
Teitelbaum went on to say, “It’s important to realize what other organizations are capable of doing and what your organization is good at and what things your organization isn’t good at.
He closed his address by saying, “Please meet each other and communicate. Think hard about who isn’t here and what they have to offer.”
Ebenezer Kofi Portuphy, national coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), has been involved with the Pandemic Influenza Program since its inception in 2009. “Before then (the start of the Pandemic Influenza Program), as a country we were struck by Avian Influenza, A1 virus. So we had a program for response, which had quite a number of challenges and setbacks.”
Implementing the plan highlighted what did and didn’t work when dealing with a pandemic and served as the starting point for the H1N1 pandemic, which hit in 2009. “We had to adopt the response we had for A1 for H1N1 and in the course of that adaptation, our teams were ready and the ministry of health, which is a parent ministry had its programs set with terms of health care and health delivery,” said Portuphy.
The plan that evolved from the 2009 outbreak has shaped the current Pandemic Influenza Response Plan that is being stress tested this week in Elmina.
The five session tabletop exercise was closely monitored with the Ghanaian government. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the overall concept for the tabletop exercise scenario, which began February 7.
This tabletop exercise is part of a series of engagements organized and facilitated by U.S. AFRICOM through its Pandemic Response Program (PRP) to assist African militaries in improving their capacity to support the response of their civil governments to a pandemic influenza outbreak or similar disaster.
PRP is funded by USAID as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative. Implemented by the U.S. military, PRP is structured like a traditional USAID project with a focus on long-term sustainable results and focuses on the whole of government approach.
PRP’s objectives are to train senior and mid-level military leaders, government agencies and international aide organizations in cooperative disaster management and humanitarian assistance situations with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness. It aims to ensure military, government agencies and aid organizations in participating “pandemic preparedness” nations have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans and to conduct exercises to test the implementation of these plans and identify deficiencies.