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Physicians Call on African Leaders to Step Up in Fight Against Ebola

Physicians Call on African Leaders to Step Up in Fight Against Ebola
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While the Ebola outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria were recently declared over, transmission of the disease remains persistent and widespread in the three most affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Health experts from countries that have dealt successfully with past Ebola say that the leaders of those currently-affected nations must switch their focus in order to start seeing some positive changes.

Senegal and Nigeria have now been declared free of Ebola, and Nigeria's efforts drew praise this week as that country's foreign minister, Aminu Bashir Wali, met with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“It’s an accomplishment in this neighborhood, and thanks to] the Nigerian health system and political awareness that Nigeria ensured it did not contribute to the spread of the virus," said Steinmeier.

But Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are not as fortunate, according to Lynne Black, a physician and the board chair of an aid organization called "Last Mile Health." Black recently returned from Liberia and told a Washington panel discussion the situation is "frightening."

“We have to reach the religious leaders, the village leaders, so they would then trust us and help us break the chain of the Ebola spread, because people are starting to hide now, because you go into an Ebola treatment unit, the communities don’t know what happens to people who go in there," said Black.

Other countries have grappled successfully with Ebola in the past - among them Uganda which has had at least five outbreaks since the year 2000 - most recently in 2012.

Doctor Francis Omaswa is Executive Director at the African Center for Global Health and Social Transformation -- and is from Uganda. He says there’s much to be learned from the way his country has handled Ebola.

“You first need to win the trust of the population. Lesson number 2, controlling the epidemic will be done by the communities themselves [by] being able to identify those who are suspected to have the disease and to refer them to centers for tests, isolation and treatment," said Omaswa.

Another Ugandan, Margaret Mungherera, is President of World Medical Association. She says while the international community has done a lot to help, the African leaders need to be the face of the epidemic.

“Decisions are being made outside the countries concerned. They are not allowing them to take the decisions that need to be done so in terms of building the leadership and developing the leadership, strengthening the leadership, there’s a lot that needs to be done," said Mungherera.

And Dr. Omasawa adds that strong leadership is a must.

“Governance arrangement should be able to reach all the households, to link the villages and the higher levels of the health systems and the government, and that is what is missing in many of the countries," he said.

Despite the currrent Ebola crisis, Omaswa says there is some good news - pointing out in a new book that more than a dozen African countries have made recent strides in their health care systems.