Professor Jeanne Ngogang giving her opening remarks
In February this year, OHCEA in Cameroon organised a workshop on bio-safety and bio-security for 47 personnel who are key in this area of practice.
The objective of the workshop was to allow policymakers and administrators at all levels to understand and appreciate the need for proper implementation of administrative controls as a key requirement to improve the practices of Biosafety and biosecurity.
The workshop was an opportunity to bring stakeholders together and discuss issues of biosafety and bio-security in Cameroon.
The One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA) vision and mission were presented by Dean Jeanne Ngogang.
The presentation on the concept 'One Health', by the national technical advisor, USAID Preparedness and Response, emphasized the potential danger presented by the spread of infectious agents, such as the epidemic of Ebola and bird flu.
The presentation on "Biosecurity in Cameroon" gave an account of the Biosecurity project in Cameroon whose goal is to strengthen national capacity to prevent and control the introduction, establishment and propagation of invasive alien species and organisms.
A video, ‘Ebola: the deadliest epidemic explained’, was screened for the participants, to illustrate the potential impact of the most deadly pandemic infection.
The first session of discussion, co-hosted by the National Observatory for Public Health represented by Dr. Gnigninanjouena Oumarou and the Bamenda district doctor; Dr. Fomeh Nsoh Gilbert, allowed participants to reflect on issues of biosafety and biosecurity in Cameroon, with a focus on human health. The exercise was very rich, with participants from various backgrounds and skills bringing their experiences, expertise and concerns and suggestions for improvement.
What came out clearly is that;
Cameroon does not yet have a home-grown plan on biosecurity and biosafety. Existing laws only focus on biosecurity, leaving aside the aspect of biosafety. However, the P & R (Preparedness and Response) project is a substantial contribution to the implementation of the 'One Health' approach, through the ‘national programme to fight zoonoses’.
During the training, simulation exercises of the Ebola virus infection were made.
Several gaps were noted in the implementation of biosecurity and biosafety measures in Cameroon.
• Several training sessions have been held before (lecturers, staff of the Department) and programs have been developed, but the materials available are not used.
• At the ports of entry into Cameroon (airports), the phytosanitary certification, which is used to attest that the shipments meet the phytosanitary requirements (for plants) importation / export, is mainly limited to the documentation. There is a lack of tools / rapid test kits that could allow a fast and effective application of biosafety and biosecurity regulations. This allows to issue phytosanitary certificates without prior analysis of the samples. It is urgent to establish a collaboration with specialised laboratories equipped with infrastructure and workforce, in order to fill this gap. The expertise to do this is available in some universities and government laboratories.
Another issue important to Cameroon is the issue of pesticide residues in food products. Increased use of phytochemicals to boost agricultural production also increases levels of residues in agricultural products. This is very important, because residual phytochemicals pose health risks to consumers.
The presentation on ‘Biosecurity and control of infections in the laboratory’ provided knowledge to the participants on the necessary precautions to be taken in the lab to avoid infection, standard procedures and precautions to follow when taking biological samples. This was an opportunity for participants to revise or learn more about the ideal laboratory practices for a safer and healthier environment.
The discussion session led by Dr. Njayou Arouna stressed the need to strengthen the current rating of Cameroon in biosafety and biosecurity.
The discussion however, brought out a concern that laboratory engineers do not always respect the rules of biosafety of the laboratory, which can be linked to a lack of awareness and negligence.
Some participants appealed to OHCEA to extend its efforts in covering / supporting training on biosecurity and biosafety practices in laboratories.
It was suggested that the stakeholders and educators extended academic programs to integrate knowledge of biosafety and biosecurity.
The creation of an interdepartmental platform of biosafety involving all government departments having an influence on biosafety issues in Cameroon, was also suggested as a suitable approach for integrated implementation of One Health in Cameroon.
From the discussions during the training, it is clear that it is urgent to expand the workforce development (in-service training on Biosafety and biosecurity), targeting different actors in education, health, transport, etc., and set up a national and departmental platform in charge of biosafety and biosecurity in Cameroon. Certification of hospital and laboratory staff on the transportation of infectious substances was also discussed as a key area that needs to be addressed.