The ECOWAS Commission has suspended all meetings involving member states of the commission due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus in some West African countries.
The Vice President of ECOWAS Commission, Toga McIntosh, announced this at a briefing organised by the Nigerian Government for the diplomatic corps on Ebola outbreak in Abuja on Thursday.
McIntosh said the management of the commission took the decision as a precautionary measure to check the spread of the virus.
He said only meetings that were “very essential” would be convened by the commission but he did not provide any specifics.
He said: “We know that all of our meetings bring together stakeholders from the member states.“So, on August 4, when we had our management meeting, we took a decision to suspend all meetings that will bring us together from our various countries.
“Let’s watch this spread and let’s see how this will go down and then thereafter we can see how we can proceed.
“Except if the meeting is so essential and we are well guided, we will approve.”
Patrick Sawyer, the 40-year-old Liberian and American, who died of the virus in Lagos, flew in from Monrovia, Liberia to attend an ECOWAS meeting in Calabar, Cross River State.
Sawyer was said to be aware of having the disease but still flew to Nigeria. The nurse who treated him in a Lagos hospital has since died. One of the doctors of the hospital is also said to be down with the disease.
McIntosh expressed thanks to the Lagos State Government, the hospital that treated Sawyer in Lagos and the Nigerian media for their support to contain and combat the deadly disease. “ECOWAS is sad that the disease is spreading like wildfire in our community,” he said.
He condoled with families and West African countries that have lost their citizens to the Ebola virus.
The ECOWAS official said all staff of the commission, including the driver and protocol officers who made direct contact with Sawyer before his death, have been placed under surveillance.
He said a request had been made to the Lagos State Government for the fumigation of the ECOWAS office in the state and the vehicle used by Sawyer.
He said this was because the staff that made contact with Sawyer returned to the office and they used the toilets and also interacted with others.
According to him, the Lagos office of ECOWAS has been temporarily closed until after the fumigation exercise.
He added that the commission had also established a task force to monitor all information on Ebola and also establish a hotline for enquiries and emergencies.
McIntosh appealed to member states and the international community to contribute to a special fund established by the regional bloc to fight the disease.
Most of the efforts are geared toward public enlightenment and procurement of safety materials for health workers.
The ECOWAS vice president thanked Nigeria for being one of the first countries to donate to the fund after its launch in Accra during the last ECOWAS Heads of State and government meeting.
President Goodluck Jonathan donated $3 million in support of three Ebola-stricken three West African countries.
A breakdown of Nigeria’s contribution shows that $1 million will go Guinea; $500,000 to Sierra Leone; $500,000 to Liberia; and $1 million to the ECOWAS Pool Fund for Ebola.
McIntosh said: “ECOWAS community has a challenge. “That challenge goes beyond the health sector.
“It requires a collective approach to put our commitment together and deal with this destructive element to development.”