Dr. Tom Frieden is President and CEO of Resolve To Save Lives, an international NGO. In this interview with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, he talked about the organization’s efforts to fight heart disease and other heart conditions.
BEFORE talking about Resolve To Save Lives and its activities in Nigeria, could you share with us your background, who is Dr Tom Frieden?
I am currently President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, and previously worked as Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I led CDC’s response to the outbreak of Ebola. I also worked as the New York City Health Commissioner, helping to prevent smoking-related deaths and spurring national and global action for better epidemiological understanding and control of public health issues, including HIV, tobacco control, nutrition and the integration of healthcare and public health. health.
While working with WHO in India, I helped support India’s TB program to rapidly improve diagnosis and treatment, saving at least 3 million lives. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, and staying physically active.
What is the idea behind Resolve To Save Lives, what motivated the decision to create the NGO?
Resolve to Save Lives is a global nonprofit public health organization whose goal is to prevent 100 million deaths from heart disease and make the world safer from epidemics. We are committed to saving lives from these preventable causes by partnering with government and civil society to implement scalable and proven strategies.
Your organization recently partnered with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) to set up the Revolving Epidemic Investigation Fund (ROIF). Can you tell us a bit more about this initiative?
The Revolving Epidemic Investigation Fund (ROIF) was founded through a partnership between the NCDC, the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) and Resolve to Save Lives (RTSL). Prior to the establishment of ROIF, NCDC struggled to obtain emergency funds quickly during health emergencies, due to issues with contracts, legislation, personnel, and transfer of funds.
This led to delays in the deployment of disease detectives, which increased the risk of the disease spreading and the possibility of someone dying from a new health threat. The three organizations worked together to develop rapid funding procedures, determine qualifying events and chains of approval, and report on how funds contributed to the response.
What has been the impact of the ROIF on the activities of the NCDC, could you shed more light on the achievements so far?
The speed with which a rapid response team is deployed is critical to controlling outbreaks and preventing regional and national health systems from being overwhelmed. After the creation of the ROIF, the median time between verification of an infectious disease threat and the initiation of deployment of a rapid response team fell from six days to two days.
Unlike other forms of funding, the structure of the ROIF is flexible, so that the NCDC was able to use its financial and technical resources immediately to respond quickly to COVID-19 when it emerged and help prevent the explosion of cases. that have taken place in other countries. ROIF’s innovation serves as a model that other countries and partners can adopt to support life-saving strategies in outbreak response.
How can the Nigerian government and private sector participants adopt the ROIF model for the health sector?
Resolve to Save Lives uses the ROIF program in Nigeria as a model and applies lessons learned to improve the financing and effectiveness of epidemic response globally. Early, rapid and flexible funding for outbreak investigations and responses is not always readily available and yet it is essential to save lives and prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics.
The ROIF approach is an intervention recommended in the WHO IHR guidance document for countries to develop mechanisms that rapidly receive and distribute funds to public health emergencies. Having ROIF already operational means Nigeria has a head start.
To sustain this gain, the national government should create a similar budget line in its annual budgets to complement the ROIF program. In addition, private actors should dedicate part of their annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding to the existing ROIF program. The Dangote Foundation and MTN Nigeria have already contributed to the ROIF programme.
Lassa fever continues to rise in Nigeria, despite efforts to curb its spread. The country is also battling Monkeypox. In your experience, what more should the Nigerian government do to curb the spread of these diseases?
Every time there is an outbreak, we should carefully consider detection, reporting and response times. Even with optimal response, the new Monkeypox variant would have been difficult to contain, and clearly many aspects of the response in many countries could have been better.
Improving public health takes time and sustained funding. This is why the global goal, 7-1-7, is so important: the goal is for every outbreak to be identified within 7 days of emergence, reported in one, and all essential control measures be implemented within 7 days. I am delighted that the Nigerian government is working towards the implementation of this goal alongside partners.
RTSL’s focus areas appear to be pandemics and cardiovascular health. Any reason why you focus on these aspects of health issues?
These are two areas where life or death hangs in the balance. When we launched Resolve to Save Lives, the goal was to save as many lives as possible – fighting heart disease and supporting epidemic preparedness are both key areas where we believe it is possible to have an impact.
Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death worldwide; high blood pressure alone kills more people worldwide than all the usual infectious diseases combined.
Very few organizations work in the area of cardiovascular health and even fewer in prevention and treatment. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, with limited political attention and global health funding.
Resolve to Save Lives is positioned to help countries close this gap and save 100 million lives over the next 30 years, by reducing global sodium intake, helping countries eliminate trans fats and supporting the control of high blood pressure.
Every country must be able to detect, stop and prevent epidemics. But many are not sufficiently prepared, as demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, recent outbreaks of Monkeypox and other emerging diseases. COVID-19 has revealed gaps in global preparedness and the terrible danger that comes with not controlling those gaps.
Heart disease and epidemic prevention are serious public health issues in Nigeria. At present, 11% of all deaths in the country are due to cardiovascular diseases, with as many as 30% of the adult population suffering from high blood pressure and 1,300 deaths expected in the country from coronary heart disease each year. directly related to the consumption of trans fats. The country has made significant progress in addressing preparedness gaps.