/ 10 November 2014

Ebola: Open letter to Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

In an open letter to AU Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
In an open letter to AU Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Dear Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,

On September 8, preceding the African Union (AU) special commission’s meeting on Ebola, the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) made a submission to the AU. In it, we proposed five specific interventions for immediate action to avert the humanitarian disaster unfolding in West Africa because of the poorly monitored spread of the Ebola virus.

On September 15, the AU released a statement outlining 11 actions to meet the challenges posed by Ebola. 

Six weeks and more than a thousand deaths later, the AU’s commitments ring hollow. Former colonial powers have committed resources, both financial and human, and, as we speak, British and American forces are on the ground in Sierra Leone and Liberia working to stem the tide of this disease.

Where is our African leadership? Has the dream of an African renaissance, of pan-Africanism, and the spirit of ubuntu, as embodied by the AU, ended up as only a bit of paper? Are the AU member states able only to support initiatives when there is an economic benefit to member countries? How many lives must be lost before the AU cuts through the bureaucratic red tape that is strangling the life out of the people of these three countries?

Since the AU meeting on September?8, we have lost two more doctors to Ebola, doctors we can scarcely replace, doctors who could have been saved if they had received the cutting-edge care reserved for American and European staff. 

The United States airlifted a World Health Organisation doctor, infected while working in Sierra Leone, to a specialised facility. This saved the doctor’s life. We applaud the US for giving priority to the health of the doctor in question, but we are also forced to note that the AU stood by while Freetown’s Dr Olivet Buck and Ugandan-born Dr John Taban Dada died. The AU was busy composing statements while our doctors and many other health workers perished.

What has become of the regular briefings promised after the special commission? 

In fairness, the AU may be moving mountains to help but we remain uninformed because there is no transparency. Have member states contributed to the crisis fund proposed in the final decision? Have media and advocacy groups been engaged to ensure clear communication? 

We respectfully request a regular AU status report on actions taken to combat Ebola. AHF remains committed to constructive engagement. We want the AU to spearhead efforts and mobilise member countries to give meaningful support to these afflicted countries. We will continue to contribute to efforts to bring this epidemic under control. We are already working with other international non-governmental organisations and agencies to supplement on-going efforts. We ask the AU do the same.

We look forward to positive outcomes of the AU meeting, plans to take reasonable and speedy steps to improve ongoing efforts in this emergency.

Dr Penninah Iutung Amor, AHF Africa bureau chief