While international transport, travel, and trade contribute to the economic development and welfare of populations, they may also pose public health risks. Today’s high traffic at airports, ports and ground crossings plays a key role in the international spread of diseases through persons, conveyances and goods.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020, many countries were forced to prioritize the potential risks from the varied ports of entry (POEs) such as airports and international borders. This experience led to the realization of inequalities in the financial and human resources distribution to the various points of entry when Botswana conducted an assessment of the International Health Regulations.
Based on the findings of this assessment, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) and WHO Botswana organized a port health strategy development meeting on the 23rd of September 2021. WHO Botswana, as part of the technical guidance and support to MoHW recruited Dr Raphael John Marfo to support the exercise. The objective of the meeting was to initiate the port health strategic framework process and to create an understanding of the linkages of different port health sectors. In addition, a committee that will drive the process of developing the Port Health Strategic Framework was formed.
In attendance of the meeting, there were various stakeholders including Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), different government departments, Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA), Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB) and Botswana Police. Speaking at the meeting, the acting Advisor of the Integrated Health Services, Dr Karabo Thokwane acknowledged WHO Country Office for bringing in the technical expertise, support and participation in the exercise and indicated that the ministry’s leadership is committed to ensuring that the exercise is a success.
Dr Juliet Bataringaya from WHO Botswana pointed out that once the strategy is developed, it will improve the management of border health and will provide for a systemic flow of information among the UN Member States and timely institution of cross border mechanisms that include surveillance, detection, and prompt response to major public health risks that could potentially be imported in Botswana. WHO appreciates that this important exercise of operationalizing the recommendations of the various assessments undertaken in the country (Joint External Evaluation, Points of Entry assessment, Intra Action Review) is taking place and looking forward to a successful result. On the 28th and 29th of September 2021, technical staff from the Ministry and WHO Botswana undertook a site visit to assess operations and systems on the ground at three points of entry as one of the activities to inform the upcoming development of a port health strategic framework. The POEs visited were Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, Tlokweng Border Post and Sikwane Border Control Post.
Under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), Member States are requested to maintain public health measures and response capacity at designated airports, ports and ground crossings. This protects the health of travellers and the population, keeps ports, airports and ground crossings running, and ensures ships, aircraft and ground transportation are in sanitary condition so that no unnecessary health-based restrictions are placed on international traffic and trade.