Lesotho continues to face health emergencies


LERIBE – The world faces numerous hazards associated with health emergencies, and all countries, including Lesotho, are at risk. A strategic risk assessment conducted in September 2022 revealed that several African countries are at very high or high risk for infectious disease outbreaks, such as the ongoing COVID-19, cholera, pandemic influenza, and natural disasters.

According to the WHO representative to Lesotho Dr. Mary Stephen, effectively preparing for and addressing these hazards is crucial for protecting people’s health and building resilient health systems.

Speaking at the African Health Volunteer Corps – Strengthening and Utilising Response Groups for Emergencies (AVoHC-SURGE) training in Leribe, on Monday this week, she applauded the Government of Lesotho for reaching a significant milestone.

AVoHC-SURGE was also celebrating the completion of training for 49 multidisciplinary experts from Lesotho.

This milestone involves building the country’s capacity to prepare for, detect, and respond to health emergencies by establishing a trained and equipped health workforce, a core capacity required under International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

These efforts contribute to a larger mission: to save lives, alleviate suffering, and protect communities, thus aiding in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3: ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.’

AVoHC is a network of African medical and public health professionals established by the AU to support the response to public health emergencies in Africa. Dr. Stephen noted that many diseases are caused by exposure to bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances.

She cited incidents related to the consumption of wild mushrooms in Leribe and Qacha’ Nek as well as the consumption of dead animals. She also cited the significant increase in mental health challenges observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This intensive training has prepared, capacitated, and improved our capabilities to deal with such events, including those associated with natural disasters,” she added.

Dr. Stephen also expressed WHO’s pleasure in supporting the Government of Lesotho’s multidisciplinary ‘One Health Approach’ to addressing health emergencies, promoting optimal health for people, animals, and the environment.

“This approach considers the human, animal, and environmental interface to protect public health. The launch and endorsement of the EPR Flagship Initiative roadmap marked a significant milestone towards strengthening emergency preparedness responses through the ‘One Health Approach’ in Lesotho.

“One of the foundations of this initiative is having a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary health workforce equipped to surge during crises,” she explained.

Parliament’s Social Cluster Chairperson, Mokhothu Makhalanyane, said the training comes at a crucial time, as the world is still combating the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed millions of lives, including 709 in Lesotho.

He acknowledged the global challenges in preparedness and readiness to respond to such shocks, as evidenced by the 2023 IHR State Party Annual Assessment (SPAR), which showed that global IHR capacities’ implementation is at 67 percent, with the Africa region at 50 percent and Lesotho at 40 percent.

“It is therefore vital to appreciate this training that helps Lesotho join the Africa Region and the globe to be better prepared to respond to shocks,” Makhalanyane added.

The Kingdom of Lesotho, under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, strives to implement IHR capacities.

The ministry has been committed to preparing for and responding to events that may constitute both a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and national concern.

To establish and maintain the capacity to detect, assess, notify, and respond to public health risks and acute events, including those at points of entry, the government and all partners are urged to pool resources to support the implementation of the IHR capacities.

Dr. Lul P. Riek, Regional Director for Southern Africa of the Africa CDC, noted that this achievement demonstrates a commitment to strengthening health systems, timely detection, and responding to emergencies in line with the Africa CDC’s commitment to preparing the continent for the next predicted pandemic.

He said the skills and knowledge gained will build stronger health systems, improve healthcare delivery, save lives, and inspire others to join the fight for health security beyond Lesotho.

Dr. Riek reminded the AVoHC-SURGE responders that they are part of a global network of healthcare heroes writing a new chapter in public health history.

Lesotho has become the 18th member state of WHO AFRO to officially join the continental roster of emergency experts known as AVoHC-SURGE, a joint effort of WHO AFRO and Africa CDC.

The training was part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Flagship Initiative Roadmap, launched on March 19, with support from the WHO Regional Office for Africa and funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).