ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – African Union (AU) chiefs held an emergency meeting Monday to hammer out a continent-wide strategy to deal with the Ebola epidemic, which has killed over 2,000 people in west Africa.
“Fighting Ebola must be done in a manner that doesn’t fuel isolation or lead to the stigmatisation of victims, communities and countries,” AU commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, speaking at the opening of the meeting.
Dlamini-Zuma told the executive council of the 54-member body, meeting at the bloc’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, of the urgent need to “craft a united, comprehensive and collective African response” to the outbreak.
The meeting came as hopes rose of a potential vaccine to provide temporary shield against Ebola.
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.
The study endorsed approval for tests on humans, which would begin in early September, with first results by year’s end.
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.
In the scramble to halt the contagion, some affected countries have imposed quarantines on whole regions while others which are so far spared from the deadly virus have halted flights to affected countries.
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.”
With border restrictions hampering trade, food prices are rising, she said, echoing the UN’s warning of serious foot 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.
“The economic impact of the Ebola outbreak will be significant,” said Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
“Ebola can only be tackled through massive investments,” Lopes added, as AU members called for more financial support in the fight against Ebola.