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African Unions Welcomes Back The First Group Of Its Heroines And Heroes In The Fight Against Ebola

By Trevor Chueu
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Addis Ababa, 24 February 2014- 17 ASEOWA (African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa) health workers, who were the first to be deployed to fight Ebola, returned from Liberia on 22nd February, upon completion of their tour of duty and were welcomed back by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Attending the meeting were the AUC Commissioner for Social Affairs Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the Director of Social Affairs Dr Olawale Maiyegun, ambassadors from the health workers' member states and a representative from Liberia. It was a unique event- the first time ever that the AU had welcomed back heroines and heroes in the fight against Ebola, and, without any infections among the health workers.

Dr Dlamini Zuma thanked the health workers for their pioneering role and assured them that the AU's is determined to defeat Ebola: “You personified Pan Africanism and solidarity. The African Union will stay the course until the affected countries are declared Ebola free. We are very happy that you undertook this mission”, she told them.

All returnees were awarded certificates of service in recognition of their contribution to the fight against Ebola and their selfless dedication. The returnees were from Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among them were doctors, hygienists and communications experts. One of them was a trainer of other medical personnel in the treatment of Ebola patients.

A representative of the health workers, Dr Abdou Sebushishe outlined the impact that ASEOWA is having on the ground:

“When we went in September 2015, there were very few Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs). At first people preferred to go to other aid agencies when they contracted Ebola. The mortality rate was very high and there were dead bodies around. But in November 2014 we opened our own ETU in collaboration with the Cubans and the Swedish. We had 60 confirmed cases of Ebola and we released 22 of them. We also had psychosocial teams doing follow ups”.

Dr Sebusishe also shared some of the personal fears he had when he first arrived, “one day I told Mum on the telephone, 'I don't know if I will come back'”. But after serving the continent, he was still able to say it was a pleasure to have been in Liberia to serve the people there. “We thank you for taking care of us”, he told Dr Dlamini Zuma, on behalf of his colleagues. He proceeded to commend the mission management, under Major General Dr Julius Oketta.

African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko commended the health workers for going into the field at a time when no one else wanted to, “when just the mention of Ebola was enough to drive people away”. Echoing the Chairperson, Dr Kaloko said the health workers were pioneers. “You responded to the call by Africa when there was a serious crisis and you made the continent proud. The weight of the disease is much less now because of the work you did.”

Uganda's Ambassador to the African Union called the health workers heroes and heroines. “You have done a wonderful job for Africa. You deserve to be treated as heroes and heroines”, he said.

In their debriefing session, the health workers had the opportunity to share their experiences as well as some of the challenges they faced. Dr Dlamini Zuma assured them that lessons from the debriefing session would be used by the AU to improve the operational efficiency of ASEOWA. She also informed them that they and their colleagues still on the field would form the core of future health emergency responses by the continent.

The returning health workers were among the first group of African expert health workers to be deployed by the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA). They left Addis Ababa in September 2014, after a two day pre deployment briefing by the African Union and other partners. In Liberia, they were given a further 2 weeks of intensive training to prepare them for work in the ETUs.

Operating in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, ASEOWA was formed on the basis of a decision of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union and has since deployed nearly one thousand health workers. With support from AU member states, partners and the African private sector, the health workers will remain on the field until Ebola is defeated.

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