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Botswana defies AU on Ebola

SHARE   |   Sunday, 14 September 2014   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho

The Minister of Health Dr John Seakgosing says Botswana will disregard the recent recommendation by the African Union calling for member states to lift travel bans to the supposedly high risk Ebola red zoned countries.

Seakgosing was speaking at a media briefing on Wednesday in Gaborone called to share resolutions agreed upon at an Extra- ordinary Ministerial meeting on Ebola Virus Disease for SADC countries held in Victoria falls Zimbabwe recently.

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African Union members  resolved on  Monday at a one-day emergency AU meeting on Ebola in Ethiopia,  that travel bans imposed to stem the deadly Ebola epidemic should be lifted to ensure the economic impact of the restrictions do not add to continent's woes.

However Seakgosing told the local media that  Botswana values public health more and will do anything to make sure that Ebola virus does not find its way into the country.” Yes we are aware of the call by AU to lift travel bans, unfortunately we will not come on board, that’s how it is,” Seakgosing said.

The AU  stressed that the travel ban should be lifted it was also resolved that  there should be proper screening mechanisms put in place, both at the countries where citizens will be departing and at the ports of entry, whether at airports, or land ports of entry, or sea ports.

AU executive chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had reportedly told the executive council of the 54-member body, meeting at the bloc's headquarters during the emergency meeting , of the urgent need to "craft a united, comprehensive and collective African response" to the outbreak.

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Dlamini-Zuma has reportedly warned that though there is urgent need to stop the spread, the continent  must be careful not to introduce measures that may have more social and economic impact than the disease itself. "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 is quoted saying.

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.

Meanwhile the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health,  Kolaatamo Malefho said that  Botswana has put up an extensive Ebola alert preparedness campaign and will put the newly enacted public health bill in use if need be to get maximum results.

According to Malefho, should any person try to resist or to avoid set Ebola precautionary screening and other related procedures required of them by designated personnel then they will face the wrath of law of this country. “We expect everybody to comply with our personnel deployed on the ground to monitor the situation, should anyone resist then they will be putting our public health at risk hence the need for the public health Act to be put to use” said Malefho.

The Extra- ordinary Ministerial meeting on Ebola Virus Disease attended by Dr Seakgosing brought together Ministers of Health from the SADC region to adopt a common SADC position on travel restrictions, and to get an update on Member states preparedness and response status.

The meeting was also told that the recent outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was not related to the one in West Africa. The DRC made a presentation during the meeting on how they were responding to the current outbreak in country and shared their experience.

Among those that constitute a common regional position on travel of persons and trucks/ commercial vehicles from Ebola affected countries, is that people who have a history of coming into close contact with infected people and infected bodies  from Ebola Virus Disease will be quarantined in the host country  for up to 21 days and that they will be subjected to screening and that member states should encourage their citizens from travelling to affected countries and their trips should be postponed for as long as  the outbreak is still on.

Standardised  public health interventions to spread of EVD into their respective countries was also agreed upon by the ministers. These include procuring and prepositioning of personal protective equipment, training of health workers, sensitization of stakeholders, identification and equipping of isolation/treatment centres, laboratory diagnosis and screening of travellers at all critical points of entry and exits.

Although he could not quantify in numbers how much Botswana has spent on Ebola preparedness plans and strategies, Minister Seakgosing said although there was no specific funds for Ebola the ministry was using the public health budget to execute its strategies.