Representatives of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire have started meeting in Freetown under the Mano River Union (MRU) to agree on methods to control and prevent disease outbreaks in the border areas.
The United Nations supports the initiative, according to Amadu Kamara, Crisis Manager for the UN Mission Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Sierra Leone.
Kamara told the gathering that included Ebola Response administrators, medical officers, technical and operational planning experts from all four countries that Ebola could not be defeated without "addressing its regional dimensions."
The virus should be seen as "one epidemic with many fronts," he said.
Dubbed the "Sub-regional Ebola Technical Meeting on Border Surveillance and Disease Control," participants hope to formulate guidelines that will regulate how patients, corpses and laboratory samples are transferred across borders.
Such guidelines will also focus on cross-border surveillance conduct and contact tracing, according to an UNMEER release issued in Monrovia Tuesday.
There is a UN mandate to support "efforts to rationalize resources, provide the strategic framework for a regional approach, as well as to ensure that our borders do not make it easy for the disease to escape," stressed Kamara.
Recent figures by the World Health Organization show that transmission rates are declining in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The high-level meeting is sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Sierra Leone’s Health Minister, Dr. Abubakarr Fofana, acknowledged that prior to the Ebola outbreak, there was an "absence of a strong and resilient health system."
He added that the unique nature of the disease, including its speed of spread from rural to urban areas, made it initially difficult to control. "We are now suffocating the virus; we are chasing it with ferocity," he said.
All four MRU countries have a combined population of 45 million, of which 2.2 million are said to be constantly moving across the borders.