By Umaru S. Jah — Information Attaché, Germany – In an effort to address problems leading to the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in sub-Saharan Africa, experts across the world including political institutions have started discussing possible ways of dealing with such a crisis should it reoccur.
Sierra Leone being among the most affected countries, the country´s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, H.E. Jongopie S. Stevens was one of the experts brought together by the Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) in Germany, during its yearly Potsdam Spring Dialogue event.
Participants at the 2015 Dialogue explored existing and new initiatives on an Africa-wide and regional level and also discussed more effective ways of preventing communicable diseases and curbing outbreaks in the future. Experiences from other regions of the world including the role and possible contribution of international actors also formed part of the discourse.
Ambassador Stevens gave an insight on the African perspective in relation to responding more effectively to health emergencies through regional integration.
Given the nature of the event, Ambassador Stevens started off with an overview of the disease and its routes of transmission. He said the virus starts with individuals and extends further to families, communities, nations including regional and global reach.
Even where the virus is not present, Ambassador Stevens noted that its ill-repute brings fear globally, inaugurating panicky reactions with profound and paralyzing effects.
He described the forum´s emphasis on a regional approach as timely and essential and stressed that such an emphasis was an important plank in the fight against the disease.
“Without regional approaches, efforts to stop the routes of transmission at the other levels would not add up into a successful fight. As my President, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma told me in a discussion, getting the correct sum of victory requires the addition of these levels into the equation of the fight.”
He went on to add that emphasizing regional approaches is in perfect fit with the principles of subsidiarity that is emerging as a corner stone for effective actions.
Ambassador Stevens stressed his belief that diversified approach is a key in dealing with issues relating to Ebola as “every level has a role to play in stopping the routes of transmission and ensuring the defeat of this mortal enemy of all humankind.”
He said while some matters of Ebola could be better handled at global level, others could be done at continental level with the African Union (AU) as lead agency.
When it comes to regional level, the Ambassador said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should take the leading role and further emphasised that the Mano River Union (MRU) should champion the sub-regional level. The national level, he went on, could also follow the principle by locating the fight at the community, household and family levels.
Ambassador Stevens acknowledged efforts made by the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), ECOWAS and the European Union (EU) and its member states, whose contributions towards the fight against the outbreak have been exemplary.
“Today, I also want to emphasize interventions at the sub-regional level of the Mano River Union that may be the most important in the chain of subsidiarity, and to which, at the moment, has exercised the efforts of the leaders of the three most affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The leaders have met severally to firm up this approach and have instructed their national ministries and agencies to have joint approaches to fighting the disease and commence action on a Mano River Union Ebola Recovery Program.”
The seasoned Sierra Leone diplomat catalogued the devastating effect of the virus in all sectors including but not limited to education, agriculture, infrastructure and the fragile health systems, which he said, have been compromised enormously with a disproportionate number of medical Personnel dying thus far.
Over the years, countries affected especially Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress through which the living standard of the people have improved considerably. The emergence of the disease has stagnated all those success stories and the livelihoods of millions of people have been negatively impacted.
For instance, stalled agricultural activities has led to about 230,000 people being exposed to severe food insecurity in Guinea; 170,000 people in Liberia; and 120,000 people in Sierra Leone at the end of January 2015.
Furthermore, air and sea transport which support tourism and trade have also been negatively affected despite the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) effectively implemented at airports and seaports across the sub-region.
Most continental and international airlines suspended operations in the three affected countries due to the Ebola scare. This resulted to increased costs of insurance, negative effect on trade, manufacturing and the general economy of the region.
It is in the light of the similar challenges faced by the three most affected countries that the region is planning a common strategy that will draw out common themes at country level and the Declarations made in the 15th February 2015 Communique of the MRU.
“The top priority is to achieve zero infection case in all three countries by the end of March 2015 whilst simultaneously laying the foundation for a swift and early recovery within the context of the New Deal and the Mutual Accountability Framework.
“The immediate priority for the recovery will be to (i) respond to the health needs and then strengthen the health system; (ii) reinstate the education system including strengthening Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs in all schools and address the teachers deficit; (iii) simulate livelihoods to tackle the high level of unemployment especially amongst women and youths; (iv) respond to welfare needs by providing social protection not just for the Ebola survivors and orphans, but also for those that have been made vulnerable; and (v) improve governance to ensure that the changes are effective and impactful.”
“The thrust of the strategy is that activities on the MRU level will focus on the regional dimension of the disease but will complement, and feed into, the comprehensive response and recovery strategies for the three hardest hit Member States of the MRU,” Ambassador Stevens revealed.
He reiterated the Mano River Economic Recovery Plan which emphasizes the coordinating role of the Mano River Secretariat based in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
This implies increasing the capacity and functionality of the Secretariat is all the more crucial. To ensure this, he said, the Technical Working Group (TWG) at a three-day MRU working session in Freetown, 16th to 18th March 2015, recommended the need for a dedicated Project Delivery Unit (PDU) to coordinate and supervise all post-Ebola socioeconomic recovery activities within the MRU.
It is on the basis of the aforesaid that Ambassador Stevens called for support from global, continental, regional and national levels to ensure that the Mano River Union Ebola Recovery Programme achieve its stated objectives