Civil society organizations (CSOs) from the West African sub-region have called on the sub-regional bloc ECOWAS to appoint an envoy on Ebola. The ECOWAS based CSOs have stressed the severity of the deadly Ebola virus in the sub-region and are now urging ECOWAS to appoint a trained professional medical doctor as its envoy to join the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments to fight Ebola epidemic.
Ebola has claimed the lives of over 1,552 people in West Africa and has infected nearly 3,000 people in five countries with Senegal being the latest African country to report the Ebola virus. In a statement signed over 95 CSOs from West Africa including the Open Society Initiative in West Africa (OSIWA), the group called on ECOWAS member states to appoint a leading, influential, strong and knowledgeable West African physician or health professional as ECOWAS Special Envoy on Ebola.
According to the CSOs, the ECOWAS Special Envoy on Ebola will complement the efforts of WHO’s envoy Dr David Nabarro, help draw attention to the public health and humanitarian challenges posed by Ebola and become a regional voice and leader for a regional response plan led by African and international contributors. The Envoy could also be the voice calling for effective management and coordination of cross-border transportation and logistics. The challenge we face is extraordinary and ECOWAS needs to create a specialized platform to address this.
“The current epidemic, which has been characterized by WHO as the deadliest Ebola outbreak since the virus was discovered in Zaire (now Democratic Republic Congo) 1974, has claimed the lives of at least 1,552 people in West Africa including many health personnel. We applaud and support the brave work of the health personnel who continue to put their lives at risk in the care of victims of Ebola despite very difficult working environment. We stand in solidarity with our brothers, sisters, families, and communities who are battling for their lives and struggling to care for loved ones,” the CSOs said.
They observed that West African economies are feeling the impact of the world's worst outbreak of Ebola.
“Travel and trade restrictions are limiting the deployment of medical personnel, equipment and commodities adding to the deadly risk that the EVD already poses to the communities and the economies of the affected countries and the region. This epidemic has exposed the challenges of our public health systems and our governance institutions,” the CSOs statement said.
In a recent release, the WHO predicts in its roadmap that 20,000 people may ultimately be infected in this outbreak. The CSOs are therefore aware of the challenges that would beget the sub-region if the situation is not put under control. “The challenge ahead is steep and a lot of work has to be done urgently to stem this dangerous situation and avoid an even greater catastrophe.”
The CSOs observed that cross-border coordination and collaboration necessary to stem the spread of Ebola has been haphazard and chaotic.
“While closure of borders may provide short term relief, it is not proving an effective way of controlling the virus and is also an impediment to cross-border technical support and humanitarian assistance, giving rise to new food security challenges. The challenge of the current epidemic calls for urgent, unified and concerted efforts by ECOWAS and the international community,” the CSOs added.
Since regional collaboration and coordination have been the main impediments in the management of this epidemic, they said we particularly appreciate and welcome the decision of ECOWAS to put in place a regional monitoring mechanism composed of two entities: the ministerial coordination group chaired by the Ghanaian health minister and a technical monitoring workgroup with members such as WHO Afro and the West African Health Organization (WAHO).
The CSOs called for continuation of the work of the monitoring mechanism even in the post-Ebola period given the negative impact the epidemic is having on health systems, on economies, and on social ties and community relations.
“We urge all ECOWAS member States to push for this resolution and to develop a concrete plan to ensure operational effectiveness and coordination. We call on the international community to provide needed assistance in ensuring that the response to Ebola in the region is effective, humane and sustainable.”
The CSOs have meanwhile acknowledged that the efforts of ECOWAS and the international community can only yield results if residents of the region do their part. They also urged the populations and all civil society organizations to show more solidarity by providing support to populations that are affected by EVD and remain cautious by observing the preventive and protective measures identified by the WHO.