Three leaders of the sub-regional Mano River Union (MRU) have committed themselves to taking stringent measures aimed at eradicating the deadly Ebola disease that has already claimed the lives of over 700 persons in their countries.
Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and Alpha Conde of Guinea lead three of the four MRU countries hard hit by the Ebola virus, the other being Cote d’Ivoire.
At an extraordinary summit of MRU Heads of State in the Guinean capital, Conakry on Friday, August 1, the leaders agreed in a Joint Declaration to, among other things, impose a cross-border isolation zone at the epicenter of the outbreak, considered the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the disease.
“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 joint declaration read by Ambassador Dr. Kaba Hadja Saran Daraba, Secretary General of the MRU, said.
“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,” the communique said.
According to an Executive Mansion press release, the MRU Secretary General, who did not specifically outline the exact area to be part of the isolation zone, but 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.
They, however, urged the international community to support Member States build capacity for surveillance, contact tracing, case management and laboratory testing.
“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 and 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 Viral Disease in West Africa as “unprecedented”, accompanied by unprecedented challenges, which are extraordinary.
Providing the MRU leaders with some frank assessment of the situation, Dr. Chan revealed that the outbreak was “moving faster than efforts to control it”.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of loss 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.
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.
The MRU leaders mandated President Alpha Conde of Guinea, who is current Chairman of the sub-regional organization, to convey the message of the Union related to Ebola to the U.S. -Africa Leaders Summit in Washington later this week.
The other two leaders, Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ernest Bai Koroma will remain in their respective countries to coordinate individual National Action Plans against the disease.
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.