Infectious diseases disproportionately afflict Africa perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality. This is compounded by the fact that various sectors, departments or ministries often work in “silos”, resulting in an inability to communicate, collaborate and co-ordinate effectively. This has major repercussions at national, regional and international level due to the failure to detect, contain and respond to disease outbreaks in real-time. Moreover, in the wake of the changing epidemiology of diseases and the emergence or resurgence of new ones, it has become clear that efforts need to be more concerted through a multi-sectoral and trans-disciplinary approach in the interest of a “healthier Africa”.
The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) -TWAS Young Affiliate Network (TYAN), the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) in partnership with SANTHE and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), recently collaborated to organise a symposium entitled “ONE HEALTH: A focus on Infectious Diseases in Africa”. The symposium was held in Durban, 27 to 28 May and aimed to provide a platform for early career researchers (ECRs) from different institutions in African to exchange data, expertise, and experience, on surveillance, prevention, intervention and management of infectious diseases ofmajor importance for Africa. The meeting was convened in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Target 3.3) to speak to the issue of infectious diseases in Africa and to respond to the need for a more collective sense of responsibility, ultimately for a more proactive public health regime. The scope of the meeting was very broad and addressed anthroponotic diseases such as HIV, TB and meningococcal meningitis, zoonoses such as brucellosis, listeriosis and Rift Valley fever and vector-borne infections such as malaria, Zika or schistosomiasis amongst others. The conference spanned two days with a packed agenda comprising of a keynote address as well as guest lectures and technical talks divided in one of five principal thematic areas: (i) antimicrobial resistance, (ii) zoonoses, (iii) current status of HIV, (iv) disease management, (v) emerging technologies of well established, emerging or re-emerging threats as well as translational science, policy making and implementation.
The “ONE HEALTH” symposium represented a real opportunity to exchange knowledge, build capacity and foster a sense of advocacy amongst Africa’s future scientific leaders in response to the number of infectious disease threats on the continent. Moreover, this forum has been a true eye-opener to researchers from academia and governmental institutions to take a greater stand and to “become part of the solution”. There is no doubt that the symposium was also a wake-up call on the need for more concerted efforts from different actors and from different disciplines working on a local, national and global front to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. Understanding the current predicament of infectious disease through such a symposium, allows researchers to go beyond the call of duty and come together to engage the right people to bring about a social change for the betterment of the continent.