SOUTH AFRICA— Africa Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (Africa CDC) Southern Regional Coordinating Centre (SA-RCC) and its host government of South Africa, have launched the region’s Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET) in Cape Town.

The southern region’s RISLNET in Cape Town, South Africa will bring together 80 representatives from Member States and public health partner organizations.

Its establishment marks the introduction of integrated surveillance and laboratory networks for rapid disease detection and response, control, prevention, and clinical care in the Southern Africa region.

The RISLNET Programme is established to support African Union Member States to effectively address public health concerns and strengthen their existing capacities.

RISLNET is currently operational in Central and Western Africa Regions.

It also seeks to strengthen the goals of Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) and Events-Based Surveillance (EBS) by integrating surveillance with laboratory support, and by translating information generated from surveillance and laboratory data into specific public health actions.

Dr. Eduardo Samo Gumo, Chair of the Southern Africa Regional Technical Advisory Committee (ReTAC) who officiated the event said, “Diseases do not respect our administrative borders. Infectious diseases, outbreaks, and epidemics can rapidly spread across the region, continent, and beyond if we do not act in a coordinated manner”.

Dr. Gumo further emphasized that the establishment and operationalization of RISLNET is urgent and needed more than ever because the continent finds itself at a critical crossroads due to the convergence of factors such as population growth, high migration, and climate change.

The RISLNET will enable the integration of regional laboratory and surveillance network capacity in Southern Africa to rapidly identify and respond to public health threats.

RISLNET will leverage existing experiences on health systems strengthening and collaborative research for enhanced region-wide capacity for disease surveillance, preparedness, and response.

“There is no substitution for working in partnerships, coordination, and provision of effective leadership,’’ said Dr. Lul Riek, Africa CDC Southern Regional Coordinator.

Following the signing and validation of the RISLNET Framework Member States representatives were urged to move forward as advocates and be champions of the RISLNET in their respective countries, to ensure speedy approval and endorsement by all Ministers of Health in Southern Africa.

The official launch of the Southern Africa RISLNET was attended by representatives from Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini.

In attendance were public health partners including the East, Central, and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), AMREF Health Africa, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), COMESA, African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) as well as the World Bank.

Disease Surveillance and Response in Africa

RISLNET was established by Africa CDC to coordinate and integrate all public health laboratory, surveillance, and emergency response assets.

The key assets under RISLNET include public health data, to effectively support prevention, rapid detection, and response to current and emerging public health threats within defined geographic regions of Africa.

RISLNET facilitates close networking among National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs), Academic Institutions, Private and Public Laboratories, Centres of Excellence, Non-governmental and Civil Society Organisations, and Veterinary Networks.

Moreover, the partners work towards the development and implementation of regionally appropriate plans for antimicrobial resistance, pandemic preparedness, and rapid response.

Furthermore, the Africa CDC program promotes partnerships and collaboration on public health research, training, knowledge exchange, and experience sharing at the regional level in Africa. 

RISLNET is integrated into the operations of the Africa CDC Regional Collaborating Centres (RCCs), hence, there will be five RISLNET networks hosted at the Central Africa, Eastern Africa, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, and Western Africa RCCs.

RISLNET is supported by the World Bank-financed Africa CDC Regional Investment Financing Project.

Understandably, Africa’s scarce public health resources are being maximized by harmonizing laboratory systems, leveraging the unique strengths of regional health leaders, and integrating national disease surveillance and response capabilities into comprehensive networks operating under the aegis of the Africa CDC and the African Union.

This will be key for reducing the transnational threat of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 across African Union member states.

Using the One Health approach, RISLNET facilitates close collaboration to address regional challenges, pandemic preparedness, and rapid disease detection and response.

Launch of the Western Region RISLNET

In April 2022, the Nigerian government and the Africa CDC launched the implementation of a regional integrated surveillance and laboratory network (RISLNET) in West Africa.

Mohammed Abdulaziz, head of disease control and prevention at Africa CDC, “We need to discuss among ourselves, how do we create a network that would work in a collaborative way to ensure that the next pandemic, will meet us better prepared.”

He emphasized that then, West Africa was battling outbreaks of Lassa fever in different countries as well as other different outbreaks were ongoing.

“So, what that means is, that for us to be prepared for the next pandemic, we should use the opportunity that comes with responding to outbreaks that are already with us… to use it to create a network of people working in these aspects of public health,” concluded Abdulaziz.

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