The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has met with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Monrovia. During the meeting, Dr. Zuma expressed solidarity and extended sympathies to victims of the Ebola crisis.
She commended Liberia for her fortitude and courage in facing the very difficult health situation, and added, “We hope that you will continue and sooner rather than later you will be successful in dealing with Ebola.”
According to the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, the AU Commission Chairperson addressed a press stakeout in the Foyer of the Foreign Ministry following a closed door meeting with the Liberian leader on Thursday, 23 October 2014.
Dr. Zuma said the regional organization is trying to mobilize more human resources from member states to contribute to the efforts of the international community to contain and eradicate the virus that is devastating the sub-region.
The African Union has already deployed a 36-member team of medical personnel to assist with the fight against Ebola under the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak Operations in West Africa or ASEOWA, for short. She disclosed that the AU is also trying to mobilize the business community within the region to contribute to the fight against the Ebola virus disease as well as post-Ebola period.
Dr. Zuma indicated that the African Union is in talks with Heads of State and Governments of member states and heads of airline companies to see how regional and continental airlines can resume flights to the three worst affected countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Asked whether she was frustrated that some AU member states still maintain travel and flight restrictions against the affected countries and whether this was an example of African solidarity, Dr. Zuma admitted that it was frustrating, but, “I will not be frustrated to the point of not continuing to engage the airlines,” she stressed.
Dr. Zuma said though there have been previous Ebola outbreaks in the region before now, it has never taken the dimension that the current outbreak has taken. She noted that everyone was caught unaware and countries had to put in place appropriate actions to safeguard themselves.
She indicated that in principle countries have said that they will be willing to have planes land from affected countries, but they need to be assured that the screening at the airports of affected countries is adequate.
On lessons learnt, the AU Chairperson emphasized that health and education should be embedded in each country’s economic development plan. “If there is no health and skills, there can be no economic development,” she warned. She added that all the AU countries need both human and financial capital and also all the sour countries should be strengthening their health services and making sure that investment in its citizens is strong.
Dr. Zuma, a former health minister of South Africa, also warned that as a lesson from the Ebola crisis, Africans should develop their public health systems so that sufficiently they can respond as well as put a lot of emphasis on health being taught in schools so that children grow up having a good understanding about health issues, including infectious diseases, among others.
She also stressed that Africans should make sure that various cultures and health should go together. Earlier, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf heartedly welcomed the first woman Chairperson of the African Union to Liberia.
“This visit provides us the opportunity to congratulate and commend her once again for her leadership role which puts her at the helm of the African effort to improve the lives of the African people,” the Liberian leader lauded. She thanked Dr. Zuma for the solidarity and support visit and for all that the African Union is doing to support Liberia and the other two neighboring countries in the fight against the Ebola virus disease.
While in Liberia, the AU Chairperson met with UNMIL Chief Karin Landgren, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Ebola, Mr. Anthony Branbury and members of the National Ebola Task Force, among others.
Dr. Zuma delegation included the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA), Dr. Carlos Lopes; the head of the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak Operations in West Africa (ASEOWA), Major General Dr. Julius Oketta; and African Union Commission Ambassador to Liberia, Ambassador Toyin Solaja. Dr. Zuma and delegation subsequently left for Sierra Leone and Guinea, respectively.