Nigeria: Ebola fears ring loud at ECOWAS meetings (By Segun Adeyemi, PANA Correspondent, Nigeria)

Abuja, Nigeria (PANA) - The frontlines of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) that is ravaging parts of West Africa may be far from here, but the fear of the deadly disease is palpable at the headquarters of the regional bloc ECOWAS, which is hosting the preparatory meetings to the ECOWAS Summit scheduled for Monday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The 15-member bloc is the lead body in the war against the intrepid virus that has claimed over 6,500 lives mostly in three of its member states (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), not minding accusations that it reacted late to the ongoing epidemic.

It has also not been spared from the deaths that have hallmarked the pandemic, as it has lost at least one staff to the disease, which spread to Nigeria when an infected Liberian coming for an ECOWAS event brought the virus along with him.

While it is arguable whether or not the organization's efforts have gone far enough in tackling the virus, what is not in doubt is the fact that Africa's most dynamic Regional Economic Community has taken measures to make the headquarters, located in one of the best parts of Abuja, Ebola free.

At the preparatory meetings, the measures taken against the disease are pervasive and regularly remind everyone that Ebola is real.

In addition to the enhanced security screening at the entrance to meeting venues, large plastic containers fitted with taps are conspicuously situated, and every one seeking to enter must first wash his/her hands with some pungent, brownish disinfectant, towel dry the hands before even proceeding to the entry point.

There, nurses smartly decked in immaculate-white uniforms point their gun-like infra-red thermometers at your forehead.

''Thirty-five point nine (35.9)'', one nurse said loudly after checking this writer, in reference to the temperature recorded in Celsius by the thermometer.

With the screening over, the next hurdle is the security screening, in which every one is made to pass through a metal detector. Then the last phase of the screening and preventive measures, an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser that is a must use for all.

PANA learnt from sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the measures were put in place after Nigeria demanded enhanced anti-Ebola measures as a condition for hosting the meetings.

''These measures may be inconveniencing, but that is a necessary sacrifice to keep this place Ebola free,'' one of the nurses said. ''If you go out five times, five times you must go through this entire process.''

Talking about sacrifice, no one knows the meaning of this word more than the delegates to the meetings from the three frontline states, who had to undertake a circuitous journey from their countries to reach Abuja.

This is because many airlines, including those from fellow ECOWAS member states, have suspended flights to the affected countries, a development analysts said has negatively affected the efforts to end the pandemic.

''It took me 48 hours to travel from Sierra Leone to Nigeria, a distance that should be less than three hours of direct flight,'' a senior Sierra Leonean government official told PANA.

A Liberian journalist who came for the meeting told PANA she flew Royal Air Maroc, Morocco's national carrier, from Freetown to Casablanca before connecting to Lagos and then Abuja.

''I left Monrovia on Sunday (7 Dec.) but did not get to Abuja until Tuesday (9 Dec). It's been a journey,'' she said, wondering why West African airlines would shun the affected countries when the World Health Organization (WHO) has not slammed a travel ban on them over the Ebola crisis.

PANA reports that the development is not lost on ECOWAS, as the Council of Ministers which met here 9-11 Dec. recommended that the leaders due to meet Monday should ensure that ECOWAS takes relevant measures to help lift the flight restrictions on the worst-hit countries.

Perhaps to soothe the nerves of those who had to travel for two days to attend the meetings and those who have had to endure the tortuous process of gaining access to meeting venues, Council Chairperson Hannan Serwaa Tetteh offered some words of hope.

''There is every indication that the tide is beginning to turn against the disease,'' said Tetteh, the affable and matronly Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana, as her Council rounded off its deliberations.
-0- PANA SEG 13Dec2014

13 december 2014 16:15:08

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