The President of ECOWAS Commission, Kadre Quedraogo, has described the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic as a security issue, saying it is not an issue for one country but a regional concern.
Speaking at the Health Partners Coordinating Committee meeting at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja, Mr. Quedraogo said he took the opportunity of the high-level meeting of the coordinating body for bilateral and multilateral partnerships in Nigeria to pay a courtesy visit to the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu.
“I convey to the government of Nigeria the total solidarity and support of ECOWAS in this very courageous struggle against the Ebola epidemic,” he said.
“ECOWAS also has suffered the devastating effect of this epidemic because we lost one of our dedicated staff and we received support and assistance from the Minister of Health in handling this very sad case.
“We fully appreciate what the international community, the health authority in Nigeria, the health personnel, and I want here to pay tribute to the courage of all the people involved in managing this epidemic in Nigeria. We appreciate their actions. This has been considered as a very very security issue for ECOWAS,” he stated.
The ECOWAS President recalled an extraordinary meeting of ECOWAS Ministers of Health convened by President John Mahama of Ghana in his capacity as the Chairman of ECOWAS which took place in Accra on 28th August 2014.
He said the meeting took far reaching measures on the containment of Ebola in the region at the level of the Ministers of Health and also at the level of the Heads of State and Government.
According to him, the priority in Accra was to see how to assist the affected countries in containing the epidemic. He recalled that the meeting discussed how to strengthen the health structures of member states for them to get ready to join the struggle.
He said another element was sanitization and information, how to convey to the people harmonized message on the danger of the epidemic.
“We considered the critical issue of free movement of persons and goods in the region. Since the outbreak of the disease many member states have started closing their borders or restricting movement of persons. We pleaded against stigmatization and condemnation and urged member states to work together in total solidarity.
“The spirit of oneness and solidarity is the essence of ECOWAS and we should not lose the very foundation of our community because of this epidemic” he added.
He cautioned that isolating countries affected by the epidemic would be counter-productive as closing borders will not only undermine the very essence of economic union which is the free movement of persons and goods but could also deny them the financial resources to face the epidemic.
He said that surveillance measures were recommended for member states to apply which includes screening of passengers at exit and entry points to any country.
Explaining how this will work, the ECOWAS President said there was a proposal for each member state to select one land, sea and air entry point to be jointly monitored by member states to reassure any government of adequate measures to screen passengers before they enter any country.
He emphasised that where there was need to close the border this should be preceded by consultation among countries concerned with the views of World Health Organization (WHO) and the West African Health Organization (WAHO) taken into consideration to make sure that such measures are necessary.
“The general principle is that borders should be open but submitted to close very strict surveillance by member states,” he stressed, adding that it was agreed that ECOWAS should open humanitarian and economic corridors towards the member states affected by the Ebola epidemic.
Mr. Quedraogo also urged that solidarity should be expressed financially and appealed to all member states and partners to contribute to a solidarity fund opened by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS to fight the epidemic.
He reiterated the gratitude of ECOWAS Commission to the government of Nigeria for committing $3.5 million for ECOWAS to combat the epidemic in the region, saying that it had been received by WAHO, the health arm of ECOWAS.
He said that the ministerial meeting in Accra had within one week developed an operational plan which was ready for submission to the Chairman of ECOWAS through the ministerial committee.
He said that the ministerial committee will be assisted by a technical committee comprising WAHO, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), WHO and ECOWAS Commission.
“We were not well prepared for this type of epidemic which is not only a health issue but also an economic and security issue. We lack the necessary human, financial resources and technical resources to face the situation hence the appeal for the assistance of partners in these areas“, he added.
Responding, the Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu expressed appreciation to ECOWAS for its key role in the containment activities against the Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria.
Likening the containment efforts to waging a war, he stressed the importance of team work towards a common purpose and assured of the readiness of Nigeria to cooperate with ECOWAS in that regard.
He noted that President Goodluck Jonathan has assumed the leadership role in the fight against the disease, pointing out that it is only by collaboration that the epidemic will be contained and eradicated.