AU calls for end to Ebola travel ban

African Union (AU) chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told reporters at the meeting of the executive council of the 54-member body, in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa: “It was agreed that as African member states we should urge all member states to lift all travel bans, so that people can move between countries, and to trade, and to open up the economic activities.”

“But it was also stressed that while the travel ban should be lifted, there should be proper screening mechanisms put in place, both at the countries where citizens will be departing and at the ports of entry, whether it’s airports, or land ports of entry, or sea ports.” 

The death toll from the Ebola epidemic – which is spreading across west Africa, with Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone the worst hit – has topped 2 000, of nearly 4 000 people who have been infected, according to the World Health Organisation.

Travel bans
In the scramble to halt the contagion, some affected countries have imposed quarantines on whole regions while others that are currently spared from the deadly virus have halted flights to affected countries.

Last month South Africa’s health minister Aaron Motsoaledi  announced a travel ban on non-residents entering South Africa, from the three worst afflicted countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

‘Collective African response’
Dlamini-Zuma told the executive council of the urgent need to “craft a united, comprehensive and collective African response” to the outbreak. 

The decision was made at the close of a one-day emergency AU meeting on Ebola, held as hopes rose of a potential vaccine to provide temporary shield against Ebola. The meeting had begun amid disturbing  allegations of the sexual abuse of Somali women by some of the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) peacekeepers. 

In her opening speech, Dlamini-Zuma said: “Fighting Ebola must be done in a manner that doesn’t fuel isolation or lead to the stigmatisation of victims, communities and countries.”  

A novel vaccine tested so far only on monkeys provided “completely short-term and partial long-term protection” from the deadly virus, researchers reported in the journal Nature Medicine. 

Dlamini-Zuma warned that in the battle to stop the spread, “we must be careful not to introduce measures that may have more… social and economic impact than the disease itself.”

Tougher measures needed
With border restrictions hampering trade, food prices are rising, she said, echoing the United Nation’s warning of serious food shortages in the worst-hit countries. 

“We should put in place tough measures to halt the spread of the disease, but we must also put in place measures to enable agriculture to continue and support the traders,” Dlamini-Zuma added. – AFP

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