Our countries are currently facing an unprecedented health risk emergency: the Ebola epidemic. Since December 2013, the West Africa faces an outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) creating a real public health problem with multifaceted implications. Thus, several countries such as Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and recently Nigeria are affected. Other countries across West Africa remain on alert at the same time as new updates are being released.
Recent data show that on 12 August 2014, a total of 1975 suspected and confirmed cases were recorded with unfortunately a sum of 1069 deaths, which makes the current outbreak the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded. Pivotal moments are occasions of making key decisions, we can longer procrastinate, the time to act is now. To attain triumph it is essential for Africa to act in unison. The Ebola is spreading quickly and has culminated to a humanitarian emergency. It is therefore urgent for us to take appropriate measures and joint actions in order to control the epidemic and protect our people.
On 8 August 2014, WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. Various organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the European Commission have donated funds and mobilized personnel to help counter the outbreak; charities including Médecins Sans Frontières, the Red Cross, and Samaritan's Purse are also working in the area and these are commendable efforts.
At the level of the African Union, during the first Joint AU/WHO Meeting of African Ministers of Health held in April 2014 in Luanda, Angola, the Ministers issued strong statement of solidarity. The Commission of the African Union worked with the Ministers of Health and mobilize funds for the African Public Health Emergency Fund established in 2012 with the endorsement of the AU Assembly but managed by the WHO. More than $700,000 have been spent from the Fund since the Ebola outbreak. The efforts are beginning to yield result with the contribution of $3.5 million to the on-going efforts by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and $ 200, 000 by the Republic of Botswana. We have been working with WHO AFRO and inputted into the Declaration of the ECOWAS’ Ministers of Health recently in Accra.
The Commission of African Union is currently planning to:
• Call for an extraordinary Meeting of the Bureau of the 6th Conference of the AU Ministers of Health here in Addis Ababa.
• Call for a Donor’s pledging Conference on Ebola Outbreak in Addis Ababa next month.
• Consider assisting the affected countries with a substantive contribution through the Humanitarian Fund under the Department of Political Affairs with about $ 1 million.
The current situation on the epidemic of Ebola should make us reflect on a sustainable approach to managing epidemics in Africa. It must make us recognise the urgency of speeding up action to strengthen our health systems, provide comprehensive and integrated health care services especially in case of epidemic. There is also a need to adopt a multi-sectoral and integrated approach to disease control for maximum effectiveness.
It is in this spirit that the Commission of the African Union intends in the near future, in order to fast track the detection of threats to public health in Africa:
Strengthen the Integrated Regional Coordination Mechanism for the Prevention and Control of Trans-boundary Animal Diseases (TADs) and Zoonoses (IRCM) established by AU-IBAR and the Department of Social Affairs and transform to a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary initiative aimed at sustainably enhancing the capacity of African countries and institutions to effectively control the targeted diseases. The IRCM is being integrated into established institutional structures of the RECs and Member States in order to ensure political support and long term sustainability.
The Ebola outbreak is providing the impetus to speed up the establishment of the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention for early detection, preparedness and response. It is expected that by early 2016 at the latest, ACDCP should be functioning as an institution of the African Union.
I commend the significant support received from our Development Partner’s engaging with our Member States both at national and regional levels. We will continue to value the cooperation and will continue to emphasize that development assistance should be aligned to continental and national priorities.
I wish to seize this moment to reaffirm the AU’s readiness through AU Commission to ensure coordination and harmonization of all efforts to achieve our desired goals on the continent.
By Amb. Olawale I. Maiyegun,
Director of the Department of Social Affairs, Africn Union.