Dreams Talks for Africanian News. In an enlightening interview with the Country Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to Equatorial Guinea, Dr.George AMEH, we talked about Covid-19, the future and the country’s health goals as it seeks to create universal health coverage for its citizens.
“I think it will be wrong to underestimate the Omicron variant. So, the population here in Equatorial Guinea and indeed in our continent will still have to remain vigilant and practice those preventive measures, and my message to people is to continue to present themselves for vaccination. We are not in a hopeless situation.” — Dr. George AMEH.
Dreams Talks: How much would you say the pandemic had affected WHO´s work agenda in Equatorial Guinea?
Dr. Ameh: As you can imagine, the Covid-19 has been a major disruptor at all levels. All organisations, all countries and global economies have been disrupted and we in the office here have also faced that challenge. This is a pandemic that we have not seen before in terms of scale and impact and the office has had to adjust, respond accordingly, and because of that some of our activities have been affected a little bit. There were some key activities that were supposed to have been concluded or undertaken over the past few months, like in the area of tuberculosis control and we have had to slow down the implementation because the whole office and the government counterparts were fully mobilized to respond to the Covid outbreak. But now, Covid-19 is something that all of us must learn to live with, so we are gradually picking up our activities.
D.T: How would you describe the vaccination rate in Equatorial Guinea and what are your thoughts concerning the vaccination in Africa?
Dr. Ameh: Right now, vaccines are one of the most important tools we have at the global level to combat this epidemic. First of all, I want to commend the government of Equatorial Guinea. As everyone is aware, the government sourced for vaccines using its own channels which is very commendable. Similarly, we have global targets in terms of vaccination progress.
WHO monitors what is going across the world and targets were set for September 2021, December 2021 and end of June 2022. End of September target was to reach at least 10% of the population, end of December 40% and end of June70%. Equatorial Guinea was one of the 16 countries in Africa that reached September`s target. So, I really commend the government and the people for that push. Then we have to continue to move forward to reach the other targets that have been set. I think that this is a very big achievement in the country. As we speak now, if you even disaggregate the national data and you look at some of the districts especially in the continental region, about five or six districts are already at 90%. That is quite an impressive run. However, there are some remaining districts where we still need to intensify efforts to reach more people, especially women.
Read also: Africa COVID-19 cases pass 9 million – ACDCP
An important tool is the whole area of communication. This is also an issue across the world. One of the issues we have had is the issue of ‘infodemic’, an epidemic of information. Some are good, some of them are negative. Creating awareness and demand for the vaccine is an area where the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF and other partners, we are all working on, and this is an area where we will call on people who work with the youth to really join forces with the government and us to make sure we really reach the maximum number of people with the correct messages.
Another strategy to get people to embrace the vaccine and demand it is identifying some well-known figures, role models in the community, sports figures, political figures, figures in media and culture that the people really look up to and get them to join us. These are people that command attention, command following in the society. We really need to identify these groups and individuals to partner with us and give the right messages to people. People see that such a prominent figure in the society is also taking up vaccines, it sends a positive message to the youth and those might harbor any doubts. A lot has been done but we still need to do more to ensure we get the right message out.
D.T: One unfortunate thing about this pandemic is that all over the world, other diseases and viruses have been relegated to the background. Are we going to have the same outlook next year and what is WHO in Equatorial Guinea going to do to achieve its objectives?
Dr. Ameh: It´s all part of the discussion that we had about what has suffered. For instance, if you look at the African continent where we are now, we still have our problems that have been with us for years now. Malaria is still killing many children and other diseases are still much present with us. We have a whole group of illnesses that we call non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertensions, that we have to do a lot again but Covid-19 has really made it that we slow down in these areas and I think that is part of the challenge we are facing in communicating in the African continent because the people still feel that their former problems are there, people are still struggling to get on with their lives and the diseases that have been affecting them are still there, and now you have this new one. At a certain point you will see that it´s hard to get people fully engaged because of the previous challenges that are still with us and have not gone away.
With regards to Covid-19, it is clear that we will have to live with it in a way. All of us at all levels will have to do our part to reach the 70% target by the end of June next year because it is only when we have a critical mass of people vaccinated that we think we will begin to see a situation where we are better able to cope with Covid-19.
The other viruses are still here with us. HIV is a problem in our continent, here in the country also. And that is one area we need to engage with the youth. So, we really need to intensify our efforts in prevention. There is serious work we need to do in terms of engaging the youths and overall aspect of prevention.
Other viruses and diseases are still with us and WHO in Equatorial Guinea has been working very closely with the government as for example with the group of what we call neglected tropical diseases. In Equatorial Guinea, we have about seven of them that we are really targeting, administering treatment to the affected population every six months. Within the next three years, we must continue this process of treating people to get rid of these neglected tropical diseases. We have worked with the government to develop strategic plans and we really need to push ahead in the coming years.
D.T: Share with us your expectations for your time as WHO Representative in Equatorial Guinea
Dr.Ameh: In terms of next year and future, by the nature of our mandate at WHO, our job is to work closely with all the 152 member states in terms of making sure we have the relevant policies and strategies in health to cope with the health challenges. Here in Equatorial Guinea for instance, we are working very closely with the Ministry of Health and other partners to make sure that certain key national policies respond to the best global and local evidence.
We have worked with the government to develop a new health sector strategic plan for 2022 to 2026. We really have to start on implementing this strategic plan, and I know the government is very keen on that. We are looking at some other new tools like strengthening oxygen capacity in the country. What we have learnt from other countries is when the Covid is very severe, you can run out of oxygen and that is serious.
Also, as part of the sustainable development goals for 2030, one of the key goals is moving the population towards universal health coverage and the government of Equatorial Guinea has been very clear that they want to strengthen what we call the district health approach. This will involve all the districts in Equatorial Guinea, making sure they are properly strengthened to be able to deliver quality, readily available health care close to people where they live and at a financial cost that is bearable.
So, for we the WHO and indeed the whole United Nations system in Equatorial Guinea, this is a priority for us, to accompany the government in this objective of progressively increasing the number of districts where you have a robust district health systems. We are looking at about three to five districts next year and we will continue to expand until we cover the entire country. This is an important part of our work next year.
Thank you very much for your time Dr. Ameh, we hope to have you again soon.