AU to help fight Ebola

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The African Union (AU) says it will have a joint civilian/military deployment in place by month-end to tackle the emergency situation caused on the continent by the Ebola outbreak.

“Using the infrastructure of peace support operation, the AU commission is finalising planning of a joint military and civilian mission, named Operation Aseowa, should start deployment by August 31,” Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the AU Commission, said in Addis Ababa.

Aseowa is expected to deploy volunteers from across the continent to ensure the Ebola outbreak is brought under control. The mission will comprise medical doctors, nurses and other medical and paramedical personnel. It is expected to run for at least six months with a monthly rotation of volunteers.

There was, at the time of publication, no indication of where the AU volunteers would be deployed but it is expected to be in the west African countries of Sierra Leona and Liberia which, to date are the worst affected.

In a statement, the continental body said the operation will cost more than $25 million and “the US government and partners have pledged to support the AU with a substantial part of this amount”.

The AU operation aims to filling the gap in international efforts against Ebola and will work with WHO (World Health Organisation), OCHA (Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs), the US and EU Centres for Diseases Control and other agencies already on the ground.

At the same time the UN has said it will scale up support to fight Ebola.

Dr David Nabarro, senior UN system co-ordinator for Ebola, said in Monrovia more health workers would be brought to Liberia to deal with the outbreak. He was speaking after wrapping up the first leg of a visit to all Ebola affected countries in west Africa.

Geneva-based WHO said in its latest update the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been underestimated for a number of reasons.

In parts of Liberia, WHO said, a phenomenon is occurring that has never before been seen in an Ebola outbreak. As soon as a new treatment facility is opened, it is immediately filled with patients, many of whom were not previously identified.

For example in Monrovia, it said, an Ebola treatment centre with 20 beds, which opened last week, was immediately overwhelmed with more than 70 patients.
“This phenomenon strongly suggests the existence of an invisible caseload of patients who are not being detected by the surveillance system,” the UN health agency said.

WHO said: “Many families hide infected loved ones in their homes. As Ebola has no cure, some believe infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home. Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe care in an isolation ward – viewed as an incubator of the disease – will lead to infection and certain death.”

The health agency went on to say that in rural villages, corpses are buried without notifying health officials and with no investigation of the cause of death. In some areas, notably Monrovia, virtually all health services have shut down.