By: Daniella Coker
Through my work-study position at the CDC, I had the opportunity to travel to Accra, Ghana the week of October 6! I went there to attend and help facilitate a portion of a USAID sponsored workshop on strengthening Ghana’s national capacities to detect and respond to Ebola. As many of you have probably already heard, the current Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa is the largest in history. As of now Ghana has yet to have a confirmed Ebola case, but there is a growing urgency to assess and update the preparedness plans of currently unaffected countries in West Africa, Ghana being one of them.
The main purpose of the workshop was to facilitate dialogue on country preparedness, especially in the context of the current Ebola outbreak. Most of the workshop’s participants included Ministry of Health officials from Ghana at the district, regional, and national level. There were also representatives from the Ghanaian military, alum from the Nigerian field epidemiology training program who were directly involved in Nigeria’s Ebola response, and a couple of people from Gambia. There were also facilitators and observers from USAID, Public Health England, DTRA, and the CDC who attended.
The workshop was divided up into 3 days. For the first two days, participants and facilitators were divided into small groups to work through a scenario of a single Ebola case introduction into the country. The scenario asked questions, like “Which ministries in your country need to be involved within the first few hours of case identification?” and “In your country, how and where is laboratory testing conducted?”. These questions inspired people at my group to pull out pens and paper to ask each other, “Okay, who would you call after a case is found? What’s their name? What’s their phone number?” Since this scenario seemed to inspire a lot of questions, the second day of the workshop was changed to provide more background on the Incident Management Framework and stories from representatives directly involved in the Nigerian Ebola response.
The last day consisted of breakout sessions sponsored by the CDC, aimed at providing more targeted technical guidance of different aspects of an Ebola response. The CDC held 4 different sessions, where participants could attend one in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. These included sessions on the incident management framework, infection control, risk communications, and contact tracing. As part of my job in Atlanta, I had created a contact tracing scenario that we were to use during the session. Two of my colleagues from Atlanta and I used this contact tracing scenario to walk through the contact tracing process step by step to identify challenges and initiate discussion revolving potential solutions that can be effective in the Ghanaian context. For example, one set of challenges regarding contact tracing in Ghana specifically would be that many homes, especially in rural regions, don’t have addresses, many streets don’t have names, and often times people are called by several different nicknames. Imagine trying to locate 30 to 40 of these types of contacts within the first 24 hours of a detected case!
Overall, the workshop was a successful one! Plans are currently being made to continue the momentum of country preparedness in Ghana. Also, a similar workshop like the one in Ghana is set to be held in Cameroon next week for the French-speaking countries in the area. Since being there I’ve gained a greater appreciation for public health preparedness and the importance of collaboration across a range of organizations to have an effective response.
This was an incredible learning experience and I am greatly appreciative of the opportunity to attend this workshop!