To coincide with the emergency meeting of the African Union (AU) Executive Council, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) sent out an urgent call for action, urging the AU to develop a strategic action and implementation plan to respond to the immediate crisis. The letter addressed to the AU Chairperson outlined four strategic interventions to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, which continues to ravage the region in an unprecedented speed in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea and has spread to Nigeria and Senegal.
In a letter to the AU Africa Bureau Chief Dr Penninah Iutung Amor stated that averting the outbreak would need to be an African priority, requiring both political and technical leadership on Ebola as the global response was totally inadequate. “The AU can and should do more to avert the Ebola epidemic in West Africa,” she said. “We are currently in the 9th month of this outbreak and we hope that in the spirit of the African Union, the AU is finally prioritising this matter so that we as a continent can support the countries ravaged by this epidemic and show the rest of the World the power of rallying together to bring this epidemic under control.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who, in her opening address called upon African countries to show solidarity. “We are gathered to show our solidarity, and to develop a collective, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy, so that our sisters and brothers, and the leadership of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other affected countries know that they are part of a broader, caring African and global family.” To date the solidarity called for by Dr Dlamini Zuma has been notably absent, with the AU Ebola fund only receiving contributions from Botswana, the DRC, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Several countries have simply closed their borders to affected countries, serving only to deepen stigma and hamper an effective humanitarian and medical response.
With programs in Nigeria and Sierra Leone providing HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, AHF is currently working with front-line healthcare workers in those countries, contributing towards the fight against Ebola.
The Call to Action proposed that the African response plan include personnel support, medical equipment, essential medicines and logistical support including an air-bridge for critical supplies and personnel into and out of the affected region among others interventions. It was further suggested that a special Ebola Fund be created, where countries and agencies could contribute towards a coordinated Africa response and would help build the health systems that are devastated by this epidemic. In addition, the organisation appealed to African Countries to provide not only financial assistance but also healthcare workers to reinforce local staff who have been overwhelmed by this epidemic. “At this critical point, it is vital to unite African countries to strengthen their preventive measures without creating unnecessary stigma to fellow Africans from the worst hit countries,” said Amor.
AHF’s plea to the African Union to step up its role in the response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa comes on the heels of the death of Sierra Leone’s Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the physician who had been leading that country’s response to Ebola. In addition to being the leading Ebola and Lassa Fever specialist in Sierra Leone, Khan, 39, also served as Medical Officer for AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Country Program in Sierra Leone, overseeing the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients at AHF’s clinic in Kenema. He succumbed to Ebola on July 29, 2014 after being quarantined and cared for by medical providers from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the isolation unit in the Kailahun District in Eastern Sierra Leone for several days.
Since the death of Dr. Khan’s death and hundreds of others lost to Ebola in West Africa in recent weeks, AIDS Healthcare Foundation has donated and delivered approximately $450,000 USD worth of personal protective equipment (gowns, gloves, boots, etc.) and provided other logistical support to West African countries for the care and treatment of Ebola patients.
Following Dr Khan’s death in August, AHF President Michael Weinstein condemned the global response to the epidemic. “This outbreak has been unfolding for far too long without an appropriate global response. Until Americans fell ill or died, there was really little to no concerted or organized global health response,” he said, urging global action combat the Ebola outbreak. “MSF’s leadership and work in fighting this epidemic is beyond commendable. It has been life saving for so many. However, this is a global crisis and the burden of containing it cannot fall on one NGO.”