Ghana is collaborating with other ECOWAS member states to develop a five-year risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) strategy for public health emergency response.
To validate the strategy document, ECOWAS in collaboration with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) has organised a regional technical workshop on risk communication and community engagement in public health emergency situations in Accra.
It was supported by the EU and the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) through its Regional Programme Support to Pandemic Prevention in the ECOWAS Region (RPPP2).
The three-day event was aimed at helping WAHO to focus on the risk communication and community engagement readiness and response during public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants, among other things, discussed the internal and external communication and coordination, public communication, communication engagement with affected communities, and misinformation management and shared experiences from the implementation of previous regional risk communication strategy and also formulated a draft framework for the launch of the new strategy.
Addressing the conference, a Deputy Minister of Health, Mahama Asei Seini, said over the years, the ECOWAS region had been experiencing disease outbreaks such as Ebola, monkeypox, influenza, yellow fever, rabies and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ECOWAS region, he said earned a lot of praise for how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic and put emphasis on how communities and risk communication would enhance such efforts.
He said he was optimistic that the regional RCCE strategy would address the human and financial resources for health needs, including building capacity for risk communication to strengthen communities ahead of the next pandemic.
He recommended that all RCCE interventions should be based on data and research that focused on previous gains and challenges during disease outbreak responses in the region.
The Director of Health Promotion at the Ghana Health Service, Dr Da Costa Aboagye, explained that there was the need to prioritise risk communication through allocation of adequate funds.
In many cases, he said during disease outbreaks, more attention was paid to laboratory, surveillance and case management yet risk communication and community engagement were crucial as “diseases start from the communities and end in the communities.
Dr Aboagye, who is also the Chairperson of ECOWAS RCCE Strategy, said the new strategy would focus on prioritising the allocation of enough resources towards communities in curbing outbreaks.
RCCE Network, he said had become one of the key pillars of the region in addressing emerging outbreaks and pandemics.
To develop human resources, he said there had been training programmes for member countries to build their capacity in RCCE, while a centre had been established in the University of Ghana to train Anglophone members of the network.
The head of programme at the GIZ RPPP, Damien Bishop, said the EU was committed to help the ECOWAS region to develop effective RCCE strategy to improve communication preparedness of communities and health workers for disease outbreak.
RCCE is for ensuring accurate health information sharing, adoption of protective behaviours by the affected people during disease outbreak, and collaborative participation by all stakeholders, including the local community structures.