African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has admitted that the response to the Ebola outbreak has been too slow.
She also urged African business, sport and cultural organisations to get involved because “we cannot rely on our governments”.
Speaking at a roundtable on Ebola with UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa today, Dlamini-Zuma said in her remarks, of which City Press has a written copy: “The disease, which is not new to the world, and its manifestations in these countries, has caught us by surprise.”
She said with hindsight it was clear “our responses at all levels – continental, global and national – were slow, and often knee jerk reactions that did not always help the situation.”
She said, however, she was confident “that we must, that we can and that we will defeat this disease”.
Critics with close knowledge of the AU’s workings have criticised the body for being slow in its response to the epidemic.
The AU’s peace and security council decided in August to approve a humanitarian mission on August 19, after it was declared an “international public health emergency” 10 days earlier.
The first cases of the epidemic were diagnosed in Guinea in March and close to 5000 people have died to date out of 10 141 known cases.
Last week Dlamini-Zuma paid a visit to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have been affected by Ebola, as well as Ghana and Ivory Coast.
She said those she met with said they still faced huge challenges and they needed the African Union and the international community “to do more, and do it faster”.
She said, however, the impression that Ebola could not be prevented, or that it was a death sentence to those infected, was untrue.
“We can stop transmission and with early treatment, many can survive and have.”
She urged for solidarity amongst African member states to fight Ebola.
“Africa, right from its days of fighting colonialisation (sic), have relied on solidarity, believing that one country can’t be free, if all Africa is not free.
“We therefore call on this African solidarity, that no country will be free and healthy, if one country still faces Ebola,” she said.
Although AU member states have contributed relatively little compared to superpowers like the United States, which aims to give $1 billion for the fight against the epidemic, she said she was encouraged by the response of member countries and regions, which have pledged 1000 health workers to date as well as in-kind and financial support.