President warns against Ebola complacency

President Mugabe

President Mugabe

New York. — President Mugabe warned the world on Friday against prematurely loosening its guard against Ebola, a deadly virus which has ravaged large swathes of West Africa, and also appealed for international assistance for affected countries.

Addressing a United Nations conference on Ebola here in his capacity as African Union (AU) chairman, President Mugabe said the world should only stand down its guard against the disease when no new cases are reported, and affected countries have recovered.

Ebola struck West Africa last year, killing over 6 000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three worst affected countries.

It has largely been brought under control, through massive international intervention, but worryingly new cases have lately reappeared in Liberia.

President Mugabe said this made it imperative for the world to remain on guard against Ebola, and crucially assist the three countries to cope with the disease, and recover from it.

The three countries, which have lived under virtual quarantine since the outbreak, told the conference their economies — in addition to their health delivery systems — had been severely ruined by Ebola, and required massive international assistance to recover.

“We must remember that as long as the Ebola virus is not contained in West Africa, no part of our interconnected world is safe from the outbreak,” President Mugabe said.

“Even with this general positive outlook (decline in new cases) in our immediate past, let me sound an alarm bell and warn that we cannot afford to be complacent. We know the underlying issues that drove and exacerbated the outbreak. Those weaknesses still exist, and need to be comprehensively addressed so that we guarantee and maintain the momentum we have built,” he said.

President Mugabe said a united, concerted global response was key to defeating Ebola, as was international support for recovery efforts in the three worst affected countries.

In presentations to the conference, the three countries said their economic growth rates had been sharply cut by the disease, from over 20 percent in 2013 in the case of Sierra Leone to -20.3 percent last year.

That is adding to the social woes Ebola wrought on the countries.

“Supporting the implementation of the recovery plans will give the three affected countries a head start as we all look forward to implementing a robust post-2015 development agenda,” President Mugabe said.

“It is against this background that we welcome this meeting’s focus on the transition from emergency intervention to recovery and building resilience,” he said.

President Mugabe said part of the international assistance to the three countries could be in the form of debt relief, a stance the AU as a whole has taken, and which is now being accepted by some donor nations and institutions.

“We reiterate the African Union’s call for debt cancellation for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia as this will free up the countries’ resources and allow them to focus on investing in recovery and building resilience to ensure that they can effectively address any potential resurgence of the virus,” he said.

He said the AU, under his leadership, was leading by example, and was also mobilising resources to help the three West African countries to recover from Ebola.

So far, over $32 million had been sourced from the private sector alone on the continent for the cause, and more resources were being mobilised.

At the conference, the United Nations said over $7 billion was needed to fight Ebola, and finance economic recovery efforts in the three countries. – New Ziana

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