Kenyan Civilian and Military Personnel Collaborate on Pandemic Response Plan

By Danielle Skinner

USA Africa Command in Mombsa, Kenya

U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs

Mombasa, Kenya

24 August 2010

Civilian and military representatives from Kenya came together in Mombasa for a week-long exercise to prepare for a potential pandemic, August 23-27, 2010.

The Kenya National Government Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise was organized by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) and

the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) project PREPARE implemented by the International Medical Corps. It brought together nearly 50 Kenyan civilian and military representatives along with experts from international agencies to assess and develop a national disaster response plan for Kenya.

Representing U.S. Africa Command at the opening ceremony was Brigadier General Stayce Harris, mobilization reserve assistant to the commander. “We must keep in mind that health and security are linked together, which align with one of U.S. Africa Command’s key theater strategic objectives–that of assisting nations with protecting populations from deadly contagions,” she said.

USA Africa Command - Port of Mombasa, Kenya

Kenya is currently in the third phase of a five-phase approach to ensure the Kenya Defense Force has a contingency plan to support civil authorities in responding to a severe pandemic or other disaster. This current phase focuses on Kenya’s national issues with a particular emphasis on the areas of communication, health, security, and logistics. The next phase will focus on training and developing the contingency plan based on what the Kenyan government identifies this week as a way forward.

Andrew A.O. Mondoh, permanent secretary, Ministry of State for Special Programmes, Kenya Office of the President, stressed the importance of a cooperative response to disasters, including both military and civilian support.

“No single department has the capability to achieve comprehensive disaster management. It’s for this reason we must practice a multi-sectoral approach in disaster management,” Mondoh said.

“Programs such as this one will go a long way in developing our ability to minimize suffering through identifying and putting in place mechanisms for early warnings and prevention hazards in order to provide timely and appropriate response for disaster victims,” he added.

According to Commander Carlos Williams, director of education and civil military medicine, Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance, health issues are the first concern during a pandemic, but these issues can quickly spiral into logistical concerns in areas where stability is a factor.

Disasters can have a serious impact on a region’s infrastructure, to include ports, railroads, and airports. An important aspect of Kenya’s national exercise is to plan for how the military can provide logistical support to keep these important infrastructures secure in the event of a pandemic or other disaster.

The group visited the Port of Mombasa to get a first-hand account of the security challenges facing the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Known as the premier gateway to East and Central Africa, the Port of Mombasa is Kenya’s only deepwater port and links Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, among other land-locked countries. During the visit, participants had the opportunity to ask questions about the KPA’s contingency plans, such as how it would respond to oil spills, pandemics, or acts of terrorism.

Managers of the KPA explained that they have emergency plans for all types of disasters which are integrated into the national plans. For instance, in the case of the H1N1 pandemic, the KPA joined with the Kenyan government’s Port Health to address issues and contain the disease. They conduct drills to practice responding to oil spills every two years. Additionally, a recently-built control tower standing at 89 meters has enhanced navigational safety and security in the port.

Participants will take what they have learned during this visit and incorporate it into various exercise scenarios. From a national perspective, it is important to keep the port and other infrastructures open and secure so that the population can receive much-needed food, medicine, vaccines, and other aid.

The first two days included a series of briefings to help participants understand the interdependencies between critical sectors and review technical training as it related to international health regulations, population movement, and vulnerable pandemics.

Throughout the rest of the week, they will be divided into smaller focus groups (logistics, transportation, communication, and health) to review scenarios and determine their courses of action. Assisting in the facilitation of the groups are representatives from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda.

Lee Brudvig, deputy chief of mission, U.S. Embassy Kenya, stressed the importance of military support to the national government in a disaster.

“Mainstreaming the military’s pandemic disaster response planning within the national planning process will be critical to ensuring maximum coordination and effectiveness if and/or when the plans are activated,” said Brudvig.

He also congratulated the Kenyans for the peaceful referendum on a new constitution which was backed by 67 percent of the population. Friday, August 27, was declared a national holiday as Kenyan President Kibaki officially pronounces the constitution into law.

“This is a very important week and next Friday will be a day of national celebration and the largest and the fullest since 1963 as Kenya embarks on a second republic,” said Brudvig. “On behalf of the embassy and Ambassador Michael Ranneberger and the U.S. government, I want to say that we stand behind this process fully as well as the reform and integration process in the region.”

This tabletop exercise is part of a series of engagements led by U.S. Africa Command through its Pandemic Response Program (PRP) to assist African militaries in strengthening their capabilities and capacities to respond to pandemic influenza in the context of a larger national pandemic preparedness and response plan.

PRP is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative (H2P). Implemented by the U.S. military, PRP is structured like a traditional USAID project with a focus on long-term sustainable results and focuses on the whole of government approach.

PRP’s objectives are to train senior and mid-level military leaders in disaster management and humanitarian assistance with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness; to ensure that militaries in targeted “pandemic preparedness” countries have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans; and to conduct exercises to test the implementation of these plans and identify gaps or deficiencies.