By Abiose Adelaja Adams
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an international non-governmental organisation, NGO, has urged the African Union, AU, to do more in formulating a response to the Ebola outbreak ravaging Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, noting that the economy, healthcare and education sectors of these countries have been severely decimated by the disease..
The Foundation said that the countries need a combination of personal protective equipment, essential medicines, human resources, and a coordinated logistical support as a strategic intervention in curtailing the Ebola epidemic.
“The AU can and should do more to avert the Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” Penninah Iutung Amor, of AHF’s Africa bureau said in a letter addressed to the AU Chairperson.
“We are currently in the 9th month of this outbreak and we hope that in the spirit of the African Union, the AU is finally prioritising this matter so that we as a continent can support the countries ravaged by this epidemic and show the rest of the World the power of rallying together to bring this epidemic under control,” she said.
To date the solidarity called for by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has been notably absent, with the AU Ebola Fund only receiving contributions from Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
Several countries have simply closed their borders to affected neighbours, serving only to deepen stigma and hamper an effective humanitarian and medical response.
AHF is particularly concerned because it lost one of its staff, Sheik Humarr Khan, the physician who had been leading Sierra Leone’s response to Ebola.
In addition to being the leading Ebola and Lassa Fever specialist in Sierra Leone, Khan, 39, also served as Medical Officer for AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Country Program in Sierra Leone, overseeing the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients at AHF’s Jenner Wright clinic in Freetown. He succumbed to Ebola on July 29, 2014.
Following Khan’s death in August, AHF President, Michael Weinstein, condemned the slow and inadequate global response to the epidemic.
“This outbreak has been unfolding for far too long without an appropriate global response,” he observed.
While criticising the inadequacy of the global response, saying it is uncoordinated, Weinstein said that questions as to who is leading the international response, how funds are being collected and disbursed, which organizations are providing equipment and personnel, and when any of these efforts will make a significant difference in slowing the epidemic in West Africa, remained answered.
This confusion and lack of coordination is why the AHF, which has donated and delivered approximately $450,000 USD worth of personal protective equipment (gowns, gloves, boots, etc.) and provided other logistical support to West African countries, is calling on the AU to make dealing with the Ebola epidemic an African priority requiring both political and technical leadership .
The situation reported in the affected countries is so grave that they have run out of hospital beds; it was reported that pregnant women have no space to give births in hospitals, thus making deliveries in homes, roadsides and inside cars a common occurrence. This also has consequence on infant and maternal health.
International help such as the British government’s promise of a 62-bed facility and the Pentagon’s offer of a 25-bed field will take at least a month before it is up and running.
The slow response means that the relief effort is three to four months behind schedule, given the seriousness of the epidemic, the Washington Post reports.
However, American President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the deployment of 3,000 troops to combat the epidemic which he considers a threat to global security.
Obama said after meeting with top US public health officials that his plan calls for sending troops, including engineers and medical personnel, to build 17 treatment centres with 100 beds each, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control centre for coordination of the relief effort.
In response, Zuma says at an AU emergency meeting: “We are gathered to show our solidarity, and to develop a collective, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy, so that our sisters and brothers, and the leadership of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other affected countries know that they are part of a broader, caring African and global family.”
The disease has now killed more than 2,470 people out of 4,940 cases in West Africa.