KAMPALA — East African Community (EAC) Ministers for Health and others responsible for regional affairs met Wednesday, March 25, by video link in a session chaired by Rwanda’s Health Minister Dr. Daniel Ngamije.
Ngamije is also the current Chairperson of the EAC Sectoral Council of Ministers responsible for Health.
All six countries were represented at the meeting that was aimed at sharing information on the COVID-19 outbreak, deliberate on the COVID-19 Pandemic, map up containment strategies to stem out any further spread of the disease in the region.
The meeting also aimed at developing a clear plan to mitigate impacts caused by the pandemic in the region.
Apart from Burundi and South Sudan, other member states have registered cases of the virus.
Besides a list of 12 emergency resolutions and directives, according to the joint statement, the ministers resolved to constitute an Adhoc Regional Coordination Committee on COVID-19 response with members from each partner state, the EAC Secretariat, East African health Research Commission and the East Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC).
The 12 resolutions
First, the Ministers directed all Partner States to continue implementing mandatory quarantine for 14 days for all travelers to the region, and avoid imported cases by implementing strict screening procedures at all border points.
They resolved to maintain suspension of EAC regional face-to-face meetings and urged the bloc’s organs and institutions to use modern technology such as video-conferences, Webinars and Skype call for holding such meetings until such a time when the situation has been contained.
The ministers also directed all countries to implement 100% exit and entry screenings by applying the multilayer mechanism to avoid some loopholes, such as transit passengers.
They resolved to facilitate free movements of goods and services in the region, and also directed all partner states to ensure that trucks or vehicles carrying goods abide by five requirements.
Five things vehicles carrying goods in the region must abide by:
Have only 2 – 3 crew members per vehicle to facilitate smooth border crossing in the region;
Crew members are in good health, crew are screened and found to be at high risk or positive for COVID-19, the truck will be decontaminated before it is allowed to continues to its final destination and the crew members will be quarantined for 14 days according to the set national guidelines;
In the event that the crew are quarantined while in transit, truck owners or operators make necessary arrangements to backup crew to ensure that good are delivered to the intended destination;
Truck drivers are required to declare their final destination and are urged to stop only at designated points along the transport corridors so as to limit chances of spread of COVID-19 during transit;
The crew for cargo planes and vessels will be determined by the specifications of the aircraft or ship and set international guidelines. The crew will be quarantined at a government-designated hotel for the period of their stay.
In addition, the Ministers directed the partner states to establish a surveillance system to monitor crew health and enable contact tracing.
They also resolved to strengthen information sharing through press conferences and linkage of national task forces to facilitate quick response, continuous reporting and to facilitate contact tracing for potential COVID- 19 exposed persons.
They directed partner states to identify a focal person who is a member of the national task force to facilitate communication between the partner states, and the EAC Secretariat for better response.
They directed the Burundi-based East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC) to synthesize and conduct research on COVID -19 and inform the Partner states on new technologies, advances in care and treatment, vaccines, behavior of the virus, diagnostic among others, to inform policy and practice in the region.
They directed respective partner states’ Embassies and High commissions to coordinate their citizens who may have been affected by the closure of borders and to enable them move to their final destination in the region.
They directed partner states to support local companies, to ensure the local production and availability of key consumables or products used in COVID -19 response including hand sanitizers, medical products, soap, among others.
Finally, they directed all partner states to provide additional contingency and emergency funds to address gaps in prevention, impact mitigation and other interventions to mitigate impact of COVID -19 and further urged EAC Secretariat and each Partner State to mobilize resources, and invest in public health systems to ensure resilience and health security.