Thomas, this is an honour for me as well as for the country
By Duncan Mlanjira
Mavuto Thomas, acting deputy director of Preventive Health Services for Health Education Services in the Ministry of Health, has been elected as a representative for southern African countries in a steering committee on Public Health Risk Communication and Community Engagement Community of Practice for Africa (PH-RCCE-CoPA).
The committee was formed in May, 2020 by Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to strengthen capacity in public health risk communication for Africa in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas, who is also chairperson for Risk Communication and Community Engagement sub-committee on COVID-19, This was an honour for him as an individual as well as for Malawi as it talks volume at the country’s efforts in the fight against the pandemic as well as other communicable diseases.
He said PH-RCCE-CoPA started holding monthly meetings since its formation in May and one will be held virtually on Thursday, February 25 to conduct election for members of the steering committee of the community of practice and each region in Africa is expected to elect a representative in the committee.
Thomas — who is also part of the Malawi’s presidential taskforce on COVID-19 — added that the representative should be a public health risk communication and community engagement specialist employed by the national public health institute or ministry of health of a country in the region.
To ensure that they have a common voice, PH-RCCE-CoPA developed some terms of reference for the operation of the community of practice, including the roles and responsibilities, membership, leadership, coordination and operations.
Objectives of PH-RCCE-CoPA include facilitating discussion on emerging issues related to public health risk communication and community engagement in Africa; to promote best practices and provide a forum for the development of effective, coordinated and sustainable mechanisms for sharing information and experience.
It also includes providing strategic leadership and coordination for PH-RCCE initiatives in the continent in partnership with regional PH-RCCE networks and initiatives and to institutionalize PH-RCCE as an essential part of public health interventions in Africa.
Its roles and responsibilities include providing technical support and recommendations on PH-RCCE to governments in Africa, including on the preparation and implementation of their PH-RCCE country work plans and strategies; encourage members to engage in joint activities and discussions and facilitate regular information-sharing on PH-RCCE best practice and lessons learned.
It is also to lead innovations and initiatives to promote PH-RCCE and positive health behaviour in Africa and to provide advice for the formation and operations of relevant committees and working groups necessary to advance PH-RCCE in Africa.
It is supporting the development of guidance documents, tools, training materials and manuals to advance the practice of PH-RCCE, as an important step towards building capacity for PH-RCCE in Africa and encourages and foster broad partnerships among members to expand the coverage and delivery of key messages, increase effectiveness of community engagement, rumours management, feedback mechanism, social science research and leverage resources.
Its moderators are Africa CDC (headed by John Nkengasong), WHO Regional Office for Africa and WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office to provide guidance for activities of the community of practice.
The moderators will ensure appropriate flow of information, provide guidance on diverging viewpoints, respond to critical comments and support the development of relevant content.
Other key roles include ensuring useful and regular discussions on PH-RCCE by members; motivating active participation in the community of practice and facilitate a friendly and professional community by ensuring a conducive environment for respectful and appropriate dialogue, knowledge-sharing and exchange of views.
The 15-member steering committee to be formed shall consist of one representative each of Africa CDC, WHO AFRO, WHO EMRO and a representative of one member state of the five regions – Central, Eastern, Southern, Northern and Western Africa.
The steering committee will provide overall guidance and advisory on the plans, strategies and initiatives of the community of practice and to facilitate resource mobilization for activities by member states.
Africa CDC will provide secretariat support for the PH-RCCE-CoPA and act as secretary to the steering committee and with support from WHO AFRO and WHO EMRO, it will facilitate meetings and events of the community of practice, including the circulation of meeting agendas, meeting notes and action points, and related documentations.
Last month, CDC’s head John Nkengasong disclosed that Africa’s Coronavirus case fatality rate has risen alarmingly to 2.5%, higher than the global level of 2.2%.
He had said earlier in the pandemic, Africa’s rate had been below the global average, and the case fatality rate is beginning to be very worrying and concerning for all
The number of African nations with a rate of deaths-per-cases higher than the global average is growing, he said, adding that there are 21 countries on the continent with a rate above 3%, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.