As the Ebola virus continues to wreak havoc in three of four Member States of the Mano River Union (MRU), leaders of the sub-regional organization have committed themselves to taking stringent measures aimed at eradicating the deadly disease that has already claimed the lives of over 700 persons.
According to a dispatch from the Guinean Capital, Conakry, Heads of State and Government of the MRU at an extraordinary summit agreed in a Joint Declaration, among other things, to impose a cross-border isolation zone at the epicenter of the outbreak, considered the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the disease. The summit was held in that city over the weekend.
“We have agreed to take important and extraordinary actions at the inter country level to focus on cross-border regions that have more than 70 percent of the epidemic,” the dispatch quotes Ambassador Dr. Kaba Hadja Saran Daraba, Secretary General of the MRU, who read the Joint Declaration.
“These areas will be isolated by police and the military. The people in these areas being isolated will be provided with material support,” she said, adding, “The health care services in these zones will be strengthened for treatment, testing and contact tracing to be done effectively.”
Dr. Saran Daraba did not specifically outline the exact area to be part of the isolation zone, but said the epicenter of the outbreak has a diameter of almost 300 kilometers (185 miles), spreading from Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone to Macenta in southern Guinea, and taking in most of Liberia’s extreme northern forests.
“The healthcare services in these zones will be strengthened for treatment, testing and contact tracing to be carried out effectively,” she said.
The MRU leaders also agreed to provide health personnel incentives, treatment and protection so they could come back to work. “We will ensure the security and safety of all national and international personnel supporting the fight against Ebola,” the leaders assured.
Considering Ebola as an international problem that requires an international response, the MRU leaders committed themselves to doing their part to bring the Ebola outbreak to an end as soon as possible. However, they urged the International Community to support Member States build capacity for surveillance, contact tracing, case management and laboratory capacity.
“We the Heads of State want to assure the international community that the disease is not being exported,” the Joint Declaration stated, assuring the International Community that the three countries have instituted measures at international ports of entry/exit.
The MRU leaders committed themselves to mobilize private and public sectors to work in synergy and increase sensitization efforts to enable communities to understand the Ebola disease for effective and efficient eradication.
They further pledged to strengthen the surveillance of cross border movement through information sharing on screening of passengers, among others.
Opening the summit, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan termed the first outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa as “unprecedented”, accompanied by unprecedented challenges, which are extraordinary.
Dr. Chan frankly told the MRU leaders that the outbreak was moving faster than efforts of control it. She was providing the MRU leaders with some frank assessment of the situation.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” Dr. Chan said. She described the outbreak as “by far the largest ever in the nearly four decade history of this disease”.
“It is taking place in areas with fluid population movements over porous borders, and it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks,” she told the summit. “Cases are occurring in rural areas which are difficult to access, but also in densely populated capital cities. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.”
In addition, the WHO Director General said, “the outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak,” adding, “These tragic infections and deaths significantly erode response capacity.”
She stressed that the situation in West Africa is of international concern and must receive urgent priority for decisive action at national and international level.
Meanwhile, the MRU leaders used the summit to launch a US$100 million (€75 million) action plan that will see several hundred more personnel deployed in the affected countries to supplement overstretched treatment facilities.
Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers, among others to battle the epidemic.
President Alpha Conde, who is also the Chairman MRU, was mandated by the MRU members to convey the message of the Union related to Ebola to the U.S. -Africa Leaders Summit in Washington that began yesterday.
All the MRU leaders signed for their respective countries except for Côte d’Ivoire who was represented by the Health Minister Dr. Raymonde Goudou Coffie.