ACCRA (AA) – Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, coordinator of the Ebola disease response and eradication process set up by the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), has warned against prematurely celebrating the end of Ebola amid a recent decline in fresh cases of the virus.
“Encouraging signs have been recorded, but the situation by large is not achieved yet,” Gnassingbe, who is also the Togolese president, told a high-level coordination meeting in Accra on Friday.
“It is premature to cry victory,” he said. “In spite of the efforts we made… to eradicate the epidemic, we are not out of the woods yet.”
His warning comes on the back of reports by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicating a reduction in the epidemic in recent weeks.
Guinea and Sierra Leone, two of the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, have said they hope to be entirely free of the virus by May.
“We are fully aware that the real impact of the initiatives we have taken so far should be measured against the impact achieved in the fight,” Gnassingbe said.
He went on to call for a public-private partnership in the fight against Ebola, which to date has killed thousands in West Africa.
Gnassingbe also called for long-term support aimed at stabilizing Ebola-hit countries, noting that the world should not place a double burden on affected states by stigmatizing them.
“It is Ebola that is the concern for us and – with the help of God – it shall pass,” he said.
ECOWAS Chairman John Dramani Mahama, for his part, attributed the decline in new Ebola cases to intervention by partners and the sub-region.
“We need to work together with stronger regional and global leadership with integrated, multi-sectoral efforts to achieve concrete gains to contain the epidemic in affected countries and prevent further spread [of the virus] by enhanced surveillance, detect threats early, adequately respond and recover rapidly,” he said.
ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouadraogo, meanwhile, expressed concern that many neighboring countries in the sub-region risked seeing new cases.
“According to the WHO, 14 other countries – including eight from our community, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Niger and Togo – are at risk of importing the disease, owing to their geographical situation, trade or migratory flows, if the appropriate actions are not taken,” Ouadraogo said at the meeting.
“In regard to the cross-border migratory flows within ECOWAS, it is necessary to coordinate national health plans and harmonize monitoring systems by increasing capacities in personnel, while involving local communities on the basis of the principles of involvement and ownership and building health systems to absorb the shocks,” he added.
UN Special Envoy for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas, for his part, stressed the need to prepare for a post-Ebola period in the sub-region.
He said the longer it took the world to stabilize the situation, the longer economic growth would be ignored.
Ibn Chambas said stakeholders in the fight against Ebola would hold a high-level workshop in coming weeks to plan a post-Ebola strategy.
U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Gene Cretz, who represented his country at the meeting, reiterated Washington’s commitment to assisting Ebola-hit countries.
“To date, the American government and people have contributed close to $900 million in funds, resources and personnel to support anti-Ebola efforts,” he said.
Cretz added: “From the 17 Ebola treatment units that our military has constructed in the three affected countries, to the 50 USAID-funded safe-burial teams operating across Sierra Leone, to the 100 ambulances that the [Atlanta-based] Center for Disease Control and Prevention provided the government of Guinea, America’s Ebola response efforts have been rapid, extensive and effective.”
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