The Government of Sierra Leone is taking steps towards strengthening its capacity for health emergency preparedness, as it hosts a three-day Universal Health and Preparedness Review high-level meeting in the country’s capital, Freetown.

The meeting aims to establish a peer review mechanism for national capacities for health emergency preparedness, based on the principles of universal health coverage and mutual accountability among countries.

Sierra Leone is the first country in West Africa, the second in Africa, and the fifth globally to undertake the pilot of this review. The country’s experience with the Ebola virus disease outbreak nearly a decade ago, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other health emergencies has positioned it uniquely to undertake this review and serve as a model for other countries.

The Universal Health and Preparedness Review meeting seeks to provide a platform to learn about best practices in preparedness and response and improve preparedness efforts generally. The expected outcomes are a commitment by the government and its partners to provide adequate resources for health, using a whole-of-government and society approach to preparing for and responding to health emergencies.

“Preparedness is key to mitigating the impact of health emergencies,” said Dr Lindiwe Makubalo, WHO Assistant Regional Director for the African Region. “This review will provide us with a platform to learn about best practices in preparedness and response, and how we can improve preparedness efforts generally. WHO reaffirms its strong commitment to partner with the Government of Sierra Leone to keep people safe and serve the vulnerable.”

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health and Sanitation, Honorable Dr Austin H. Demby, stressed the importance of positioning the country ahead of health emergencies.

“What we learnt from Ebola is rather than chasing a virus, you should strategically position yourself, so you are ahead of it,” he said. “The World Health Organization and other partners, through this review process, will support the country to position itself so we can better anticipate and prevent emergencies from happening in the first place.”

Sierra Leone has made significant progress in health security and universal health coverage as part of its recovery from past health emergencies. The Universal Health and Preparedness Review meeting is expected to build on this progress and set the country on a path towards stronger health emergency preparedness.