Ebola: Concerted Efforts Needed

Published on 19th August 2014

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.

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