AU responds to Ebola outbreak

Concerns over health institutions, education and traditional burial rites were raised.

African Union.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The African Union (AU) spoke on the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa region particularly in Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Sierra Leone during a special sitting yesterday.

Officials spoke about the implementation strategies to combat the worst Ebola epidemic seen since its initial outbreak in 1976, with over 1800 cases and 1000 deaths reported since the outbreak in March this year.

Commissioner for Social Affairs at the AU Commission, Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, pointed out areas of concern in the face of the spread of the virus.

He fingered areas such as weak health institutions, education for the public, porous borders and traditional aspects of burial whereby people expose themselves to infected corpses, as major issues for concern.

He also expressed concern over the viruses rapid spreading through West Africa and noted that there was very little known about the emergence of the virus.

"Now the first concern we have about the problem is that the geographical and health aspect of it, which worries us. This is an epidemic that used to be mostly around the DRC Congo and Eastern Uganda and for it to emerge over a thousand kilometres away without any clear explanation is worrisome."

He said different African states should begin to support each other.

"Personally I have been engaging with ministers since that time, advising on strategy, checking on whats going on and asking for inter-African support for each of the countries that are affected by this epidemic."

Kaloko explained the AU was working in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the spreading of the virus and were looking at measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Medical Services Directorate of the AU Commission, Dr Mary Tapgun explained the geographical spread of the virus as well as the different reasons for the severe outbreak.

Tapgun explained that the direct handling of animals could result in the transmission of the virus.

Eating game meat, fruit bats or direct contact with chimpanzees and gorillas were also leading causes for primary infections.

"Secondary infections occur to health workers and family members offering care to initial victims. In affected areas mainly health workers are at risk and it's important to notify people and members of the community that the handling of people that are infected and their secretions whether blood, saliva, vomit or excrement are all hazardous and the infection could be easily transmitted. The handling of bodies or remains of people who've died of this disease is dangerous and unfortunately there are some cultural practices that expose people in these communities to infections because of how they handle the corpses."

Tapgun noted that during the 2-21 day incubation period, victims of the virus were at low risk, but when they begin displaying symptoms of the virus such as fever, muscle pain, intense headache and sore throat followed by diarrhoea, vomiting, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, as well as internal and external bleeding, they were highly infectious.


Presently there's no licensed treatment for Ebola, but WHO announced on Tuesday that they would approve previously unlicenced medication to be tried in cases.

Tapgun said from the present perspective the treatment is mainly supportive.

"We try to ensure adequate rehydration of people who are suffering and the replacement of blood components where necessary."

The WHO has provided guidelines to be followed by different groups including health workers, travellers and operators of travel services and the general public.

The AU has been collaborating with WHO, the Ethiopian government and other international agencies and its member states.

WHO has not recommended trade or travel restriction to the affected areas but it's important for people to limit their travels to very essential travel."

WHO Country Representative to Ethiopia, Dr. Pierre Mpele-Kilebou, noted that this was the largest Ebola outbreak since 1976.

He announced that the Director of WHO, Margaret Chan, and the deputy regional director Dr Luís Gomes, had met with the affected heads of states and announced a West Africa response plan.

"The plan requires $100 million for additional health personnel, supplies and coordination."

He also said that WHO are now supporting the affected countries with the appropriate health expertise by deploying over 200 WHO staff to the affected four countries.