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Monday, November 3, 2014

Ethiopia Ebola MissionEthiopia has a long history of showing solidarity with other African countries on strategic issues. Ethiopian peacekeepers were sent to United Nations missions since the 1950s and more recently to crisis spots in Africa such as South Sudan, Somalia, and Rwanda. Ethiopia feels a distinct responsibility for Africa as it is a founding member of the African Union (AU) and its capital Addis Ababa has been the seat of the African Union (formerly the OAU) since its founding in 1963. Successive Ethiopian governments have embarked on Pan African missions despite the economic difficulty in the country indicating how important it is for Ethiopia to take a stand on important Pan African matters.
Desiring to help African compatriots during times of crisis is laudable on its own right and is in line with Ethiopia’s tradition of wanting to do its share in major episodes that transpire outside its borders. Ethiopia could also benefit from similar gestures of kindness by the international community if it were on the receiving end. It can also be argued that if we don’t stop Ebola at its source, it is a matter of time before it gets to us and we have to deal with it. Indeed, as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that has so far sent 700 international staff to West Africa as part of its Ebola response pointed out “The best way to reduce the risk of Ebola spreading outside West Africa is to fight it there. Policies that undermine this course of action, or deter skilled personnel from offering their help, are short-sighted. We need to look beyond our own borders to stem this epidemic.”
As highlighted in a recent study by Oxford University, Ethiopia is one of the countries at risk of suffering from the Ebola epidemic by virtue of its geography. Most importantly, any government that is accountable to its people has responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of its citizens first and foremost and decisions must be made taking the public safety into account. For example, the Conservative Government of Australia recently announced that it will not send its medical professionals on harm’s way out of concern both the individual healthcare workers and the Australian general public. Of course, Ethiopia’s relationship with the rest of Africa is different from Australia’s. Australia’s response would have been different if it is one of its neighboring countries that is stricken with the Ebola plague.
While a number of other airlines have suspended flights to West Africa, Ethiopian Airlines4 (EAL) is continuing its routine flights to the region. British Airways, Air France, Emirates, and a few others have halted flights to West Africa over concerns about the deadly Ebola outbreak. EAL has announced that it has taken precautionary measures but whether these measures provide the country the degree of safety it needs is the question. This makes one wonder whether the Ebola risk is properly assessed. That people traveling by plane could contribute to the spread of the virus is a legitimate concern. Ethiopia needs to move swiftly to enhance its domestic preparedness beyond the current level, employ state of the art screening measures, and put plans in place for active post-arrival monitoring of people from Ebola affected areas. A dedicated response team must be created to handle a confirmed patient with Ebola and provide assistance to the hospitals that are handling the known cases. Lessons learned so far from the fight against Ebola by all actors must also be shared with all stakeholders so that they can respond properly if a potential case is discovered.