The World Health Organization (WHO) has defended its plans to build Africa’s first health emergency hub on land that is also claimed by Kenyatta University (KU). WHO said the government had granted it the 200 acres despite complaints by KU that it wasn’t consulted. President Kenyatta launched construction of the facility, whose commission date is yet to be declared, last week.
On Thursday, WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, sought to absolve the agency from blame, saying, it had received approval from the government to proceed with the project.
“We are aware that the land is owned by the government and the people of Kenya and continues to be so,” said Dr Moeti at the weekly virtual press briefing, adding that the agency had approached the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health and “engaged in discussion with the government to host some additional functions...”
Read: Magoha: I have nothing to do with Kenyatta University VC drama
Store medical supplies
Dr Moeti said the emergency hub would be used to store medical supplies and equipment, which would then be deployed to the field more quickly in response to public health emergencies in Eastern and Southern Africa. She added that WHO would share the property with other health agencies such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC), which also aims to improve its response timelines for public health emergencies in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Suspended KU Vice-Chancellor Paul Wainaina had earlier said the land belonged to the university and had been earmarked for development projects. Prof Wainaina said the university was not opposed to any project, but that “proper procedure and process must be followed.”
The WHO regional facility, the first of its kind in a network of African centres, will include a training centre and house a cadre of professionals that can respond to a medical emergency within its first 24 hours as well as stockpiles of medical equipment.
Africa faces more than 100 health emergencies a year, ranging from disease outbreaks to natural and man-made disasters. Experts have warned that population growth, booming global economies and human encroachment into forests are fuelling the spread of new and existing viruses. According to a WHO analysis published on Thursday, the threat posed by zoonotic diseases, which jump from animals to humans, is surging in Africa. In the past 10 years, the number of outbreaks has risen by 63 per cent compared to the previous decade.
“We must act now to contain zoonotic diseases before they can cause widespread infections and stop Africa from becoming a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases,” said Dr Moeti.