Addis Ababa – The African Union has today called for “a lot of support and solidarity from fellow African countries and from the international community” for its member states affected by the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

African Union Commission Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma today spoke at the opening ceremony of an emergency meeting of the Union’s Executive Council, as the continent seeks to craft a united, comprehensive and collective response to the Ebola outbreak that has so far affected a number of countries in West Africa.

While understanding the need to protect citizens from the virus, Dr Dlamini Zuma warned against responses that fuel isolation or lead to stigmatization of victims, communities and countries.

The Commission Chairperson called on African media, civil society, artists and cultural workers, political parties, sports and faith based organisations to work with governments, the Regional economic communities (RECs) and the African Union, to get accurate and clear messages out, as part of a public health campaign, to inform and educate African citizens on the transmission of the disease, care for the affected, and burial of the dead.

She called on the scientific community to work together in the development of treatment and vaccines for the EVD.

Dr Dlamini Zuma voiced AU concerns about the impact of the disease on post conflict reconstruction and development efforts in the most affected countries i.e. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. “This includes the impact on cross border trade and food security, as people are unable to work their fields, and so food prices are rising. We should take tough measures to halt the spread of the disease, but we must also put in place measures to enable agriculture to continue and support traders, the majority of whom are women”, said the AUC Chairperson.

It is estimated that 60 percent of Ebola deaths and infections are female, including nurses, cleaners and laundry workers.

The Economic Commission for Africa confirmed that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are likely to experience several points GDP reduction due to disruptions in key sectors such as mining, agriculture, domestic and cross border trade, air travel, investments, and diversion of public funds to fight the epidemic among others.

Expressing his solidarity with the AU’s message today, UN under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the ECA Dr Carlos Lopes urged African people to fight the “hysteria” often exhibited in times of crisis such as this. “This time around, instead of succumbing to it, Africans need to fight back”, he urged.

The African Development Bank, represented by its Deputy President Mrs Geraldine Fraser Moleketi also emphasized the socio economic impact that Ebola is expected to have. “The economic and social impact will affect many more lives and will increase the longer the epidemic continues”, she said.

Ebola has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation. It has been successfully stopped in previous outbreaks but current measures are failing to stop its spread and it continues to claim lives at a rate unknown since the first outbreak in 1976.

The African response to the epidemic has so far included contributions in cash from countries such as Nigeria, The Gambia, and Botswana. Malawi, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have sent medical personnel to the affected countries. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has adopted a strategy for accelerated response to Ebola.

At continental level, the African Union is to soon deploy a humanitarian mission (the African Union Response to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, ASEOWA) which will provide medical support to affected member states in their ongoing responses to alleviate/mitigate/eradicate the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in the affected areas. An evaluation mission from the AU Commission has just returned from the affected countries. As part of the ASEOWA mission, the Commission has also designed a communication strategy to enable media to provide correct information in a timely manner so as to destroy misconceptions that undermine public health efforts.

Today’s extra ordinary meeting of the Executive Council meeting is being chaired by Mrs Hindou Mint Amina, Minister of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania for Maghreb and African Affairs and is also being attended by ministers of health, Commissioners of the African Union Commission, ambassadors and experts.

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