AU Ambassador speaks about the Ebola epidemic

Photo by Tyler Meuter

Recently, Ambassador Reuben E. Brigerty, a United States Representative to the African Union (AU), came to Tech to talk to students and faculty about the challenges the African Union is facing in its fight against the serious viral disease Ebola. With the major media scare surrounding the Ebola epidemic, the speech seemed especially relevant.

Focusing on the current situation in the AU region, Brigerty began his speech by addressing the AU’s success in helping combat Ebola, while sharing his seemingly optimistic outlook for the future.

“While this outbreak is far from over, I am fairly confident the AU will act as an important player in not only treating patients but also in offering support to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea as those three countries recover from this outbreak,” Brigerty said.

The speaker also shared his thoughts on what he believed to be the three main outcomes resulting from the major, frightening Ebola scare.

“Going forward, I first anticipate the African Union will conduct a lessons-learned session identifying how the organization can respond better in the future,” claimed Brigerty. “Second, I predict the AU will work closely with the effective governments on reconstruction and rebuilding the lives and economies of those countries, and third, I am sure they will be working ever more closely with the United States in creating an African Center for Disease Control.”

According to the speaker, although the African CDC idea did not strictly come about from the Ebola situation, the virus certainly helped “expedite the creation of this body.”

The AU, moreover, is strongly encouraging the member-nations to participate in the powerful “Ebola fight.” For example, the supranational organization requested that every African Union leader send approximately twenty healthcare workers to Ebola-infected regions resulting in five hundred workers fighting the intense virus.

Although member-states can make their own sovereign decisions regarding the Ebola outbreak, the Union also asked African countries to continue to allow flights to land. Consequently, if flights are blocked, people may go underground to travel. Then it will be much harder to track the spread of Ebola since officials cannot account for who is traveling where.

The AU Representative also took questions from the audience, therefore hoping to facilitate an engaging debate. One of the selected members of the audience posed a truly thought-provoking question: “Is there a way to send in fewer healthcare workers to the scene, since Ebola post-death transmission is present?”

Brigerty addressed this issue by stating that healthcare workers do not always need to be sent into African countries, as some countries including Liberia do not even have the proper treatment for the virus. Therefore, even if people went to their respective doctors, the doctor would just end up sending them back home because of the lack of necessary treatment available.

Lately though, the African communities are becoming more aware of the deadly disease and are taking the necessary precautions to prevent the virus’s spread. For example, sick people wrap cloth around their faces and plastic bags around their hands to prevent further transmission. This is not exactly the right kind of treatment, but there is at least some type of awareness.

Another audience member asked, “When you were here last January, you discussed how some Africans came to the United States to better understand American culture and further cross-cultural relations between the countries. Is there a way for students in the United States to go to Africa for a very similar purpose?”

Brigerty said that to his knowledge, there is no such thing. “That said, there are a number of opportunities for young American kids to come to Africa supported by the Peace Corps.” Some young United States citizens are being funded to work in the African Union for two to six weeks.

As a closing statement, Bigerty said that the African Union declared an Ebola meeting every month in order to address the issue at hand. These meetings, hopefully, will help decrease the severity of the media-centered issue.

“The Union has been going full out since early August, and I am confident the AU will continue to treat patients in Liberia and Kenya as they recover,” said Brigerty.