National Emergency Operations Centers Support Long-term Public Health Infrastructure in West Africa

In the summer of 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and officials from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone identified the need for public health emergency management systems and physical emergency operations centers (EOCs) to coordinate Ebola response activities. To meet this need, the CDC Foundation assembled donor funding to help support temporary EOCs, develop permanent EOCs and establish incident management systems to coordinate response efforts and help prepare each country for future health emergencies. The Paul G. Allen Ebola Program donated $12.9 million to fund EOCs in all three countries. Other donors provided funding to meet additional needs in support of the EOCs.

“During a public health emergency such as Ebola, EOCs serve as the nerve center to bring people together and coordinate activities necessary to control an outbreak as fast as possible,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia join a growing list of nations that are better prepared to respond to outbreaks that threaten global health security.”

Representatives of the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as officials from the U.S. government, CDC, the CDC Foundation, and the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program are participating in dedication ceremonies in Conakry, Guinea; Monrovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the first ceremony today in Guinea.

“Our donors met a critical need in the Ebola response by supporting the emergency operations centers and the incident management processes managed through them. This support has helped protect West Africa, the United States and the world,” said Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “Emergency operations centers fortify the health infrastructure in West Africa, and importantly, will prepare each of the three countries for future health threats.”

During a public health emergency like Ebola, EOCs provide a hub that brings all response functions together in one location. The EOCs and incident management systems established for the Ebola response enabled better coordination of national activities, faster decision-making and data sharing among public health experts and emergency response partners. Public health officials in each country and CDC are working together to ensure the EOCs continue to provide a resilient, systems-strengthening infrastructure that remains in place for responses to future public health threats. Proteus On-Demand, a U.S.-based construction company, constructed the permanent EOC buildings in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In addition to temporary and permanent EOCs, donor support was used to hire and train EOC staff, develop custom and integrated data management tools for surveillance and contact tracing, and provide furnishings, generators, equipment and supplies. Donor support also helped enhance the 24-hour Ebola 117 Call Center in Sierra Leone and the initial set-up and six months of operating costs for the Guinea 115 Call Center. The call centers provide a toll-free number people can call for free information on Ebola and to report suspect Ebola cases. The National Ebola Response Line in Guinea is the first national coverage emergency response line for the country.

In Liberia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors provided funding through the CDC Foundation to implement a strategy to extend and support the Ebola incident management work by establishing 15 county-level EOCs. This funding supported the establishment of the facilities and the hiring and training of staff to manage the EOCs.

Other donors provided support to meet additional needs identified for the EOCs. Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan funded a second floor in the Liberia EOC through their donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. This floor contains space for training public health workers and space for professional staff, including technical and response teams. Training rooms will help the Ministry of Health, CDC and other partners work alongside Liberia’s public health professionals as they learn new skills and strengthen existing skills in surveillance and public health emergency response. For example, Liberia’s new Field Epidemiology Training Program, a partnership with the Ministry of Health, CDC and Emory University of Atlanta, will hold classes in this space to educate health practitioners in identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive health care.