Fear Driven by

How Africa is fight against Ebola the

CityPress - - Voices - Liberia Mahtar Ba is ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent of Al­lafrica Global Me­dia

di­rect con­tact with in­fected in­di­vid­u­als and it’s very high fa­tal­ity rate in a re­gion where health sys­tems and in­fra­struc­ture are gen­er­ally very poor, an un­prece­dented panic emerged among both au­thor­i­ties and the public.

Med­i­cal teams equipped with the nec­es­sary highly pro­tec­tive suits in­vol­un­tar­ily in­creased fear and panic.

Nat­u­rally and le­git­i­mately, many gov­ern­ments in west Africa be­gan adopt­ing strict mea­sures to avoid con­ta­gion. Those mea­sures very of­ten in­cluded air and sea re­stric­tions as well as bor­der clo­sures. This sit­u­a­tion cre­ated a de facto quar­an­tine of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – which went against the rec­om­men­da­tions of the WHO and many other humanitarian groups at the front line of the bat­tle to de­feat the dis­ease. In many in­stances, the WHO has re­peated not rec­om­mend­ing travel or trade re­stric­tions for the af­fected coun­tries and has called for lift­ing the air em­bargo. The UN body stresses ac­tual risk of spread­ing the dis­ease dur­ing air travel is low be­cause it re­quires di­rect con­tact with the bod­ily flu­ids of a per­son al­ready dis­play­ing symp­toms.

But they’re not be­ing heard. Royal Air Maroc is now the only air­line pro­vid­ing reg­u­lar ser­vice to Mon­rovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Brus­sels Air­lines and Air France have been very ir­reg­u­lar, with the French car­rier an­nounc­ing on Wed­nes­day its sus­pen­sion of flights to Liberia. Kenya Air­ways stopped its flights weeks ago. “Right now, there is a su­per risk of the re­sponse ef­fort be­ing choked off be­cause we sim­ply can­not get enough seats on enough air­planes to get peo­ple in and out, and get goods and sup­plies in,” the WHO’s emer­gency chief, Bruce Ayl­ward, told re­porters as he launched a nine-month, $490 mil­lion (R5.2 bil­lion) EVD bat­tle plan on Thurs­day.

He was echoed by the UN en­voy on Ebola, David Nabarro, who crit­i­cised air­lines for scrap­ping flights, warn­ing that EVD-hit coun­tries faced in­creased iso­la­tion, which made it al­most im­pos­si­ble for the UN to carry out its work. The quar­an­tine ac­tu­ally wors­ens the sit­u­a­tion on the ground and sends very neg­a­tive sig­nals about Africa across the world. In­deed, it hugely hin­ders re­lief ef­forts by re­duc­ing and some­times stop­ping the move­ment of med­i­cal sup­plies and per­son­nel try­ing to en­ter an af­fected coun­try, mak­ing con­trol and pre­ven­tion more dif­fi­cult. It also de­liv­ers a huge blow to the economies of af­fected coun­tries. The African Devel­op­ment Bank has in­di­cated the out­break could even­tu­ally cost the Mano River Basin coun­tries (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast) between 1% and 1.5% of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Even coun­tries with­out a sin­gle known case are be­ing hit. Some west African na­tions have started see­ing large can­cel­la­tions in their frag­ile tourism in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing a num­ber of post­poned re­gional and in­ter­na­tional sem­i­nars and con­fer­ences. Coun­tries very far from the epi­cen­tre of the dis­ease such as Kenya and South Africa are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing huge losses in their tourism in­dus­tries too. The South Korean na­tional car­rier, Korean Air, de­cided to sus­pend its di­rect flight between Seoul and Nairobi. This week, the US bas­ket­ball team can­celled a trip to Sene­gal, an EVDfree coun­try.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, the im­age of the en­tire con­ti­nent is again at stake. Africans trav­el­ling to Europe, Asia or the US are in­creas­ingly un­der scru­tiny. Dur­ing the re­cent US-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit held in Wash­ing­ton, DC, it was un­com­fort­able to note the de­bate among US pun­dits on prime­time TV and ra­dio about the “risk” that African del­e­gates could bring EVD with them. The week fol­low­ing the sum­mit, news came from Nige­ria that the coun­try had to pull out its na­tional team from the Youth Olympics in Nan­jing, China, fol­low­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against the ath­letes who were quar­an­tined and barred from train­ing along­side other ath­letes.

On Wed­nes­day this week, Rus­sian news agency RIA Novosti an­nounced Uzbek­istan’s public health min­istry has rec­om­mended that an or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee of the wrestling cham­pi­onship in Tashkent ab­stain from invit­ing west African ath­letes due to EVD con­cerns.

In western Europe – from Spain and Italy to Ger­many and France – there are a num­ber of doc­u­mented EVD­mo­ti­vated racism cases. Yet only one per­son, a Span­ish mis­sion­ary, is known to have died af­ter con­tract­ing EVD while in Liberia. The para­noia is grow­ing and unimag­in­able acts are be­ing wit­nessed for fear of Africans ex­port­ing the dis­ease.

All this hap­pens at a time when a real pan-African lead­er­ship vac­uum is be­ing felt. No strong voice or group of voices is be­ing heard loud enough, save the courageous and de­ter­mined ac­tion of the pres­i­dent of the African Devel­op­ment Bank, Dr Don­ald Kaberuka, whose or­gan­i­sa­tion re­cently made a $60 mil­lion grant to help fight the dis­ease.

If Africans do not act fast enough by putting pres­sure on their re­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to lift the quar­an­tine im­posed on af­fected coun­tries, the en­tire con­ti­nent will soon be quar­an­tined.

The quar­an­tine ac­tu­ally wors­ens the sit­u­a­tion on the ground and sends very neg­a­tive sig­nals about Africa across the world

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