The East African Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation of 7 Partner States: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republics of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. As one of the fastest-growing regional economic blocs in the world, the EAC is broadening cooperation among the Partner States in the political, economic and social spheres for their mutual benefit.
The Secretariat is the executive Organ of the Community. It ensures that the regulations and directives adopted by the Council of Ministers are properly implemented and provides the Council of Ministers with strategic recommendations. The Secretariat is one of 7 Organs of the EAC. Others are the Summit, the Council of Ministers, the Co-ordinating Committee, the Sectoral Committees, the East African Court of Justice and the East African Legislative Assembly.
The EAC Secretariat has an advisory and coordinating role for the Partner States. The EAC Secretariat and the Partner States have declared the fight against infectious diseases a health priority for the region. Information available in the EAC shows that each Partner State has had at least two notifiable disease outbreaks every five years since 2000. The region has experienced outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Rift Valley Fever, Marburg, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever and Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, Bird Flu and COVID-19 amongst others.
In the management of public health emergencies and other events, the Secretariat involves multiple professional disciplines and sectors of society that play an important role in prevention and response. In addition to human health, these include trade, immigration, environment, and agriculture, among others. This contributes to a uniform, effective, responsible and balanced approach to preparedness at the regional and national government levels.
Both the Secretariat and the Partner States acknowledge the need for implementing RCC in the region. Coordinated risk and crisis communication between the EAC Secretariat and the Partner States enhances prompt information sharing, facilitates “speaking with One Voice” in the region and builds trust among stakeholders. This web portal is aimed at the continuous provision of relevant risk-related information, thus empowering EAC residents and travellers to protect themselves from preventable harm. The EAC Secretariat bears editorial responsibility and management of the web portal. Risk and Crisis Communication Focal Points nominated from Partner States' ministries responsible for One Health core sectors serve as contributors to the portal, providing risk-related information from their respective sectors (agriculture & livestock, defence, education, environment, health, immigration, tourism & wildlife and trade).
Risk communication is a two-way exchange of information, perceptions and advice among risk assessors, risk managers, and various groups of people in the society who face a threat to their well-being about the likelihood and consequences of harm from an event. It aims at minimising the risk of hazards from causing harm, such as an infectious pathogen from causing an illness, ‘in peacetime’. Only those who know the risk can effectively take the appropriate measures to protect themselves. Risk communication is a continuous process involving stakeholder engagement at every step. Prompt and accurate risk communication is vital in reducing misinformation and stopping rumours that may worsen the magnitude of any emergency. Furthermore, well-planned risk communication can improve decision-making and the adoption of recommended behaviours by communities.
Crisis communication is the prompt exchange of information during a crisis, such as fires, floods or landslides. It is aimed at informing and changing the behaviour of a target group in a manner that leads to minimizing the impact of an event. Thus, crisis communication plays an important role in bringing an emergency under control.
Together, risk and crisis communication (RCC) form an integral part of public health response and are essential elements of disaster and emergency preparedness. In East Africa and across the globe, the importance of RCC is established and is increasingly being employed as one of the core tools for mitigating the effects and consequences of public health events and other emergencies.