Friday, 10 October 2014

African Union Response to the Ebola Epidemic in West Africa

The Ebola outbreak was first reported in December 2013 in Guinea. As the African Union has stressed, the current outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease is the worst that has ever been experienced since the first outbreak in 1976.
The outbreak has the potential to have a major socio-economic impact on Africa. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, Africa’s GDP growth was projected to accelerate to 5.0 per cent in 2014 and 5.1 per cent in 2015, on the back of continuing relatively high commodity prices, increasing domestic demand and improved economic governance and management among African countries. An expected firmer global recovery in 2014, bolstered by robust growth in industrial production in emerging and developing countries led by China, was also anticipated to stimulate growth in Africa through increased trade, investment and capital flows. The current outbreak, regarding the impact on Mano River countries and at regional level, will have a negative impact on Africa’s growth. The epidemic has also overstretched the capacity of member States to adequately provide health care in an environment where national budgetary allocations to the health sector remain lean and at best insignificant.
Through its Peace and Security Council and the Executive Committee and the various mechanisms put in place, the AU is working alongside other major actors to bring an end to the spread of the disease.

The AU response to Ebola started in April 2014 at the first 1st African Ministers of Health Meeting jointly convened by the African Union Commission (AUC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Luanda, Angola. A strong Communiqué and an appeal to Member States with experience in handling Ebola disease to assist was issued. The response was positive. Some AU member states sent experts to the affected countries.

$1, 000 000 was released from the Union’s Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa in August 2014.

On the 5th of September, the staff members of the African Union donated $100,000 dollars to the Ebola effort. The Commission’s Chairperson expressed the Union’s gratitude for this gesture.

The use of these funds is determined by the funding agreement with the Member States. According to the agreement, the funds are to be used by the Member States for medical supplies. Moreover, the AU Executive Council, during its emergency session on 8th September 2014, requested the Commission to “Put in place a monitoring mechanism to support urgent disbursement of pledged support to EVD outbreak response” 

The Peace and Security Council of the AU met at its 450th meeting in Addis Ababa on 19 August 2014, and adopted decisions on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa:

Two key decisions of the Peace and Security Council were:
To authorize the immediate deployment of an AU-led Military and Civilian Humanitarian Mission, comprising medical doctors, nurses and other medical and paramedical personnel, as well as military personnel, as required for the effectiveness and protection of the Mission: and,
That the Commission should take, without further delay, the necessary steps to develop a Concept of Operations for the AU Mission, including its logistical, financial and other relevant aspects.

ASEOWA is formed
As a follow up to these decisions, the ASEOWA team was formed. The task force comprises representatives from many of the AU departments as well as specialist partners. It is led by the Commissioner for Social Affairs Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko. Regular meetings are held under the guidance of the Director of Social Affairs Dr Olawale Maiyegun.
An ASEOWA Head of Mission with previous experience in dealing with Ebola has been appointed.

Concept of operations done
The concept of operations has been finalized and signed. It now guides the work of ASEOWA.

Deployment of ASEOWA team
The ASEOWA Head of Mission arrived in Monrovia on 15 September to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the team. This included meetings with the Government of Liberia and key partners to synergise the AU response with existing efforts.

In the same month, the first members of the paid ASEOWA volunteers were recruited. Among them are epidemiologists, clinicians, and communications personnel.

The team underwent two days of training and information update by specialists from the AU and partners at the AU headquarters.

At the end of their training, the volunteers were addressed by AUC Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who told them of the pride that the African continent has in their commitment to help other Africans.

The team was deployed to Monrovia on 17th September.

Apart from the training received in Addis Ababa before their departure, the ASEOWA personnel received a further two weeks of training in Monrovia under the WHO and the United States Center for Disease Control.

Other volunteers to be deployed in Sierra Leone and Guinea are now being put together.

An emergency meeting of the Executive Council was held on 8 September 2014. It was called with a view to craft a united, comprehensive and collective response to the Ebola outbreak. Among the decisions of the Executive Council were that the AU Commission should:
Call upon Member States to urgently lift all travel bans and restrictions to respect the principle of free movement and that any travel related measures be in line with WHO and ICAO recommendations, in particular proper screening;
Engage with media and advocacy groups, local communities, civil society organizations, social networks and other relevant actors on the ground to ensure proper communications about EVD to the general population and the international community at large. (Full decisions are available at   

Lifting of travel restrictions
In pursuance of the implementation of the decisions of the Executive Council, the Commissioner of Social Affairs was the first AUC official to visit countries in West Africa with a view to discussing the major decisions of the Executive Council, such as flight cancellations and closure of borders.

The Commission is also having meetings with Chief Executive Officers of airlines to make the necessary arrangements that will facilitate movement of people.

 Other high level delegations will follow.

Engagement with media and other key stakeholders
A comprehensive communication plan has been drafted encompassing activities at headquarters, at mission headquarters in Liberia and at mission stations in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Its main objective is to ensure proper communications about EVD to the general population and the international community at large.
Within the ASEOWA task force are specialist agencies that are supporting the AU with expertise, information updates and additional resources. These partners include the World Health Organisation, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the US Mission to the African Union, the Center for Disease Control, and various Embassies who attend meetings from time to time.

USA, EU, China, Norway and Canada have so far pledged financial support to ASEOWA 

Tanzania  president  H.E  J. Kikwete greeting  the   sudanese  president  Albashir-Photo  by  Ayoub  Mzee at  the  Africa  union  Addis  ababa