By: Thandiwe Kubere

Maseru – The Government of Lesotho embarks on a significant stride towards fortifying health security within the African continent by initiating the African Volunteer Health Corps- Strengthening & Utilizing Response Groups for Emergencies (AVoHC-SURGE) Onboarding Training.

This pivotal program, designed for 50 dedicated responders, was ceremoniously launched in the Leribe District as a key component of the Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) Flagship Initiative.

The AVoHC-SURGE program, spearheaded by the African Union and World Health Organization (WHO), equips African nations with the expertise to swiftly tackle health crises.

It merges AU’s rapid expert deployment strategy with WHO’s workforce training, ensuring emergency readiness within 24 to 48 hours.

The AVoHC-SURGE training combines two initiatives to develop in-country teams that can be rapidly deployed with technical expertise during times of emergency. This initiative translates lessons learned from past crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, into African-driven solutions that reflect regional, national, and local needs.

It emphasizes the importance of a ready, willing, and able workforce that can help save lives, reduce disease and suffering, and minimize socioeconomic loss to affected communities and countries

The AVoHC-SURGE initiative is a critical element of the comprehensive Emergency Preparedness and Response Flagship Initiative Roadmap, which was unveiled on March 19, 2024. The roadmap’s development and implementation have been bolstered by the collaborative support of WHO’s Regional Office for Africa and the funding provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

In the previous year, Lesotho made a decisive commitment to the WHO EPR Flagships initiative, aligning with the broader objective of enhancing health security across the African Region. This commitment also serves the ambitious pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 3, which is to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.”

The training’s inauguration was marked by insightful remarks from the EPR Flagship Coordinator, Zewdu Assefa Edea, enlightening that the WHO is actively advancing three Emergency Preparedness and Response flagship initiatives.

These initiatives encompass (i) the promotion of resilient systems for emergencies, known as PROSE; (ii) the transformation of African surveillance systems, abbreviated as TASS; and (iii) the fortification and mobilization of response groups for emergencies, referred to as SURGE.

The training in question is intricately linked to the workforce pillar, which is one of the four foundational pillars of the SURGE flagship initiative.

Mr. Edea further reveals that the AVoHC-SURGE training is structured into two distinct phases. The initial phase encompasses the foundational onboarding training, while the subsequent phase delves into specialized, in-depth training. He emphasizes that the selection of participants was a meticulous process, drawing professionals from a diverse array of sectors.

This selection process was guided by the One Health approach and steered by a multisectoral selection committee.

During the opening ceremony, the Chairperson of the Social Cluster for Lesotho, Hon. Mokhothu Makhalanyane, expresses profound gratitude to the WHO for their unwavering financial and technical support, which has been instrumental in strengthening the nation’s health sector.

“The Kingdom of Lesotho is excited about this training as it focuses on enhancing SURGE capacity in the country during public health emergencies, by equipping professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to ensure quality care delivery under intense pressure”, Hon. Makhalanyane states.

WHO Representative to Lesotho, Dr. Richard Banda, addresses the attendees, stating that this initiative, orchestrated in coordination with the Africa CDC, is aimed at bolstering the capacity of Member States to effectively prepare for, identify, and tackle health emergencies.

Dr. Banda reiterates the WHO’s pledge to persist in collaboration with the Government of Lesotho and various partners to cultivate a robust, multidisciplinary workforce adept at managing health emergencies within the nation.

Furthermore, the National Coordinator for Africa CDC in Lesotho, Ester Muchenje, articulates her aspiration for the training to cultivate a vital cadre of health professionals. These professionals would be primed to swiftly respond to emergencies, ideally within a 24 to 48-hour window, both in Lesotho and across the African continent.

Lesotho stands among the 23 nations currently implementing this flagship initiative. It is noteworthy that Lesotho is the 18th country to conduct at least one module of the training, with 17 countries having already completed the onboarding training phase. This marks a significant milestone in the collective effort to enhance health security and emergency responsiveness in Africa.