02 Feb 2016

Statement of the AU Commission Chairperson, HE Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on the occasion of the Closing of the AU Ebola Mission

31 January 2016, Addis Ababa

 

 

Your Excellency, Mr. Idriss Deby, Chairperson of the African Union and President of Chad

Excellencies Heads of State and Government

Excellency, Mr. Ban Ki Moon

Excellencies former Heads of State and Government and former Secretaries General and Chairpersons of the OAU and AU Commission

Representatives of the Board of the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust

Representatives of the Private sector and Mobile Network Operators

Honourable Partners and Guests and

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is with great pride that we host this luncheon to mark the end of the Ebola mission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Ebola epidemic affected the peoples, health workers and governments of the three countries.  It also affected the region and the continent as a whole, arresting social and economic development in its wake.

As the most affected at the time, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with the support of ECOWAS, showed remarkable resilience and courage, as they went all out to mobilise their peoples, to change behavior and ancient rituals. We salute Presidents Conde, Sirleaf Johnson and Koroma for their leadership in the face of this invisible threat.  We also note the timely and effective responses in Mali and Nigeria, drawing on domestic resources to stop the virus in its tracks.

We all remember the tragedy of the more than 881 health workers, on the frontline of the response to Ebola, who paid the ultimate price.  We also remember all the lives lost through Ebola, and our heart goes out to those who remained behind, especially the orphans.  We salute the response of the international community and express our sincere gratitude for their solidarity and collaboration in the respective countries.

Solidarity and the spirit of Ubuntu have always been part of the fabric of our African relations with each other. AU Member States made financial, material and technical contributions – large and small towards the efforts to fight the epidemic in the three countries. Countries across the continent followed in the steps of their citizen who first volunteered in order to release more health workers and volunteers for the first humanitarian response of the African Union.

As the disease unfolded, and after Dr. Lopes, Dr. Kaberuka and myself  visited the three countries in October 2014, it became clear that the international community was doing a lot to build Ebola Treatment Units and provide all the logistical and health equipment, but we needed health personnel to care for the affected and infected. We thus called on African Member States to second health workers and for the African private sector and others to help us to fund it.  They responded beyond our expectations.

In order to change the narrative, we called on the solidarity of Africans from all walks of life. They heeded the call to fund African health workers that changed the nature and magnitude of our response.

Africans, through ASEOWA, stood in the face of fear to help communities in places such as Nzerekore, Guinea, Port Loko, Sierra Leone and Sanniquellie, Liberia. As good Samaritans, ASEOWA health workers immersed themselves in the communities to save lives, at a time when fear gripped Africa and the world.

In order to achieve our objectives, we worked with all our partners. Moreover, the Commission implemented the concept of alternative sources of funding by bringing in the private sector and the general public. Their commitment to Africa was demonstrated through the SMS campaign and cash donations. At the historic meeting on 8 November 2014, the African Union put forward a proposal that met their requirements. We created value with one clear and concise message: Africa Against Ebola

The SMS campaign could not have been implemented without the cooperation of mobile network operators. Through their competitive advantage and reach they offered ordinary citizens a unique platform to raise awareness and donate.  Our telecommunications regulators, in 46 countries, responded to this call, providing very swiftly the required permissions for MNO’s to launch the first public-private crowd-funding exercise in the continent. This demonstrates that alternative sources of funding for African programmes is within reach.

The pride of our solidarity however, is the work of the health workers of the African Union support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).  Formed by the Peace and Security Council immediately after the declaration of Ebola as a public health emergency by the WHO, the first 100 odd health workers were young men and women who volunteered to go to the frontline at a time when fear had overtaken common sense.  Thus, within a period of two months, we were able to upscale the deployment of health workers from 100 to 862, with health workers drawn from twenty (20) African countries.

The approach of ASEOWA, led by General Julius Oketta was to work with the health systems of the three countries, and with other partners in the field – UN Agencies, African Humanitarian Action, the US CDC, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, with Medecins Sans Frontiers, with health workers deployed by Cuba and China, and with many, many others. 

ASEOWA health workers ran Ebola Treatment Units, and helped with community mobilization. The epidemiologists followed up on 49,493 people through contact tracing in 33 administrative units across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. ASEOWA provided training to 6505 local health workers, partners, community workers, traditional leaders and others and as the disease started to abate.  The programme also assisted with the restoration of health services in 88 public clinics and hospitals.

And they did all of this, without a single infection, due to the discipline, commitment and dedication that they displayed. We salute General Oketta, who brought back our army of health-workers to their countries, without a single casualty in the field.

Excellencies,

It would however be remiss if we do not speak about the consequences of some of our own actions.  Some amongst us chose to close borders.  Others imposed travel restrictions and canceled flights to the countries most affected whilst also refusing the docking of ships from the countries most affected. The consequences were dire, often limiting economic activity and thus raising the levels of isolation and fear at a time when Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Africa were already battling negative global perceptions.

The Ebola efforts therefore taught us many important lessons; and let me remind you of the quote from Emperor Selassie who said that evil will triumph if we are inactive, silent, and indifferent

Africa’s response to Ebola reminded us that we ought to and must raise our voices in the face of our brothers and sisters facing any calamity and challenge. It showed us that through cooperation, we can defeat the most deadliest of viruses.

As two young health workers told me during their pre-deployment training in Addis Ababa:

We thank the African Union for giving us the opportunity to show our Pan Africanism, and to serve our people.  We are doing this because it could have been in our countries, … and what if nobody came?

African health workers came, demonstrated their competencies, sacrificed and contributed to the lives of our fellow human beings.

We are in the process of operationalizing the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.  This will strengthen and build our collective capacities to respond to future epidemics.  We also agreed that the Africa CDC will have a continental health volunteer component to it.  This will enable us to respond quicker if we are faced with similar threats in any part of the continent.

As we therefore salute the peoples and governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the contributions of so many different individuals, countries, institutions and the private sector, and we formally end this mission, we can say with confidence that Solidarity is Alive, and that We Care and will continue to care.

We must also remember that our communities were the first responders, risking their lives when faced with an unknown and uncontrollable virus.  It was a stern reminder of the words of Miriam Were who said that: “If it does not happen in the community, it does not happen in the nation.”

When Ebola hit the communities, we waited for far too long…

We have an opportunity to prevent outbreaks to turn into epidemics through the work of the African Union, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and the African Risk Capacity. Our health systems, using technology, must reach every single community in all corners of our continent, so that we become resilient in the face of outbreaks.

I thank you.