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AU: Infrastructure, Worker Shortages Are Hurdles in Ebola Battle

The African Union chief said limited infrastructure and not enough human resources are the main challenges when it comes to tackling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The group's members say more hospitals and treatment centers are needed, along with more people trained to work in those facilities.

The United States, United Kingdom and France already have developed plans and programs to help with infrastructural needs. But the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said human resources also are key.

“When the international community was pledging, not many countries pledged human resources. And yet if the infrastructure is built, it will need human beings, health workers to work in those hospitals and treatment centers,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

Volunteers needed

The AU so far has sent 100 medical volunteers to the affected countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Another team of medical professionals will be sent to Guinea, but many more volunteers are needed.

Dlamini-Zuma said the continental body has written to heads of states of its members to request more personnel.

“To see if each country can give us, not a lot, maybe up to 10, 20 each. If everyone give us, we can get some hundreds of health workers," said Dlamini-Zuma. "And of course we will be talking to other countries also, outside the continent, to see if they would be willing to send health personnel. But we look at this as part of the responsibility of us as the continent to mobilize as much human resource as possible.”

AU Commissioner of Social Affairs Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko just returned from a visit to the three most severely affected countries in West Africa. He said the problem is overwhelming, but that when trying to contain Ebola, it is important to get into the minds of people.

“It's tied up with cultural practices and the way people think. If you have a relative who is not well, a relative who is sick, the tendency is you would like to look after that relative," said Kaloko. "But now we are telling them, when people are sick, you call somebody else, if they have fever, you call somebody else. You take them away from home and you don’t see them, until the lucky ones get better and come back.”

The AU has formed ASEOWA, the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. The task force so far has received $18 million of the pledged $35 million that is needed for operations until the end of January.

Since the first reported case of this Ebola outbreak in December 2013, nearly 4,500 people have died from the disease.