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Homeland Security

Nigerian Civilian and Military Personnel Collaborate on Pandemic Response Plan

By Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel P. Lapierre
U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs

LAGOS, Nigeria,
Nov 2, 2011 — Approximately 70 civilian and military representatives from 22 agencies in Nigeria came together in Lagos for a weeklong exercise to prepare for a potential pandemic disaster response, October 24-28, 2011.

Following an afternoon of informational briefings, including an overview of U.S. Africa Command's Pandemic Response Program (PRP), current world pandemic up-dates, and key resources and infrastructure for planning and mitigation strategies, representatives from the Nigerian Armed Forces and ministries of the Nigerian government put into practice what they learned.

Participants were grouped into five collaborative response cells: operations, communications, logistics, health, and security-- replicating the traditional model of a national disaster operational center. Also included in the groups were experts from key agencies including the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigerian Red Cross (NRC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Lieutenant General (Retired) Joseph Inge, lead facilitator with the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine, the purpose of this construct is to harmonize efforts of various ministries and agencies so that the national disaster response plan moves forward quickly and smoothly.

The Pandemic Response Program is designed to assist African militaries in strengthening their capabilities and capacities to respond to pandemic influenza in the context of a larger national pandemic preparedness and response plan.

PRP's objectives are to facilitate collaboration between senior and mid-level military and civilian leaders in disaster management and humanitarian assistance with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness; to ensure that militaries in targeted pandemic preparedness countries have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans; and to conduct exercises to test the implementation of these plans and identify gaps or deficiencies.

According to Eric Threet, PRP program manager for U.S. AFRICOM's Health and Humanitarian Assistance Branch, "Across African regions, there is a need to continue to strengthen civil-military coordination in national, multi-sector preparedness and response, and to develop military contingency plans to support civilian pandemic preparedness and response operations. The PRP initiatives validated that in many cases, civilian authorities are largely unaware of the capabilities of the military and therefore unsure of what roles and responsibilities to assign military forces during disaster response."

Nigeria is currently in phase three of a five-phase PRP program. Currently six of the eighteen USAID-identified African nations have completed phase three of the program. Planning continues to further the program in the remaining countries.

Representatives from Uganda and Kenya, shared their subject matter expertise and experience with the PRP, and assisted in facilitating two of the five breakout groups, the security and communications groups, during the exercise.

Pamela Komujuni, senior disaster management officer, Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Refugees, Office of the Prime Minister, Uganda, said, "It has been very important that we continue to collaborate with other governments like Nigeria in the area of pandemic response because a pandemic has the potential to become a regional or continental problem within Africa. If all countries have similar pandemic disaster plans it will allow for easier coordination across our governments."

Throughout the exercise, participants put their existing pandemic response plans to work to see if they could identify any gaps or shortfalls within their plan.

According to Babatunde Adebiyi, assistant southwest zonal coordinator for NEMA, "We identified a few gaps within our existing plan. In some areas we realized that certain areas weren't covered at all. Now we will be able to create standard operating procedures that will allow us to be more effective within a pandemic and reduce our response time significantly."

One gap identified within Nigeria's medical capability was the absence of the Nigerian Medical Association and Association of Nigeria Midwives and Nurses from its pandemic plan. More than 70 percent of all medical care given in Nigeria comes from these two agencies, which could play a significant role in the mobilization of personnel during a pandemic, said Soji Adeniyi, Emergency Preparation Response, Monitor and Evaluation officer.

According to Threet, the efforts of U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), USAID and various United Nations organizations, have focused on building the necessary relationships and expanding the capacity of military resources to support civilian response to disasters.

The success of these efforts is evident in real-world civil-military disaster response improvements following disaster response training incidents such as floods in Tanzania and Benin and mudslides in Uganda. These countries have developed written pandemic contingency plans and established command and control networks. In the future, some key focus areas of PRP include African military disease surveillance programs, national African disaster plans and improved civil-military communication joint training exercises.

During the closing ceremony Dr. Charles Beadling, CDHAM director, said, "Although the exercise is over, the work of continuing to prepare for a pandemic is not. There are many aspects of preparedness in responding to disasters, displaced persons, providing shelter, food, sanitation, and risk communications. Throughout the week you have improved upon these areas and in the future will hopefully keep these key concepts in mind when preparing for a disaster."

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