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OAS Permanent Council Receives PAHO Report on the Ebola Outbreak in Africa and the Impact of Chikungunya Virus in the Americas

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The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) held a regular meeting in which it received reports from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in western Africa and the status of Chikungunya virus in the region, and also discussed issues related to the empowerment of women in the Hemisphere and the designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

During the meeting, the Council received PAHO Director Carissa Ettienne, and PAHO Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis, Marcos Espinal. Director Etienne reported that Ebola is active in six countries in West Africa, where 22 million people live, and warned that the virus "is spreading exponentially." "Today we have 5,800 reported cases and 2,800 deaths, but half of these cases have occurred in the last three weeks, and it is expected that this crisis will expand in terms of numbers and deaths," she said, and recalled that recently the United Nations Security Council stated that the Ebola crisis in West Africa is "a threat to international peace and security."

Director Etienne said the issue should be treated as a threat to global security, and to the economic prosperity of the African countries concerned, while she felt that the crisis will last least six to nine months. The PAHO leader also said the Ebola virus and Chikungunya, which is active in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, require a "multi-sectorial response to confront these diseases successfully."

In his presentation, Director Espinal said the dynamic situation generated by Ebola is rapidly deteriorating, and that "the international response is being overcome." Director Espinal added that PAHO has a response team to monitor Ebola’s situation 24 hours a day seven days a week to assist the countries of the Hemisphere. He also said that the virus is transmitted through personal fluids, and the most common symptoms are fever, vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, bleeding.

In relation to the Chikungunya virus, he indicated that mortality is much lower than Ebola, and is transmitted by the mosquitoes Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegipty - the same that transmit dengue fever-, which appeared in the region for the first time in late 2013. He also indicated that the virus causes fever and joint pains.

Economic Empowerment of Caribbean Women

The Council’s meeting included a presentation by Claire Nelson, from the Institute of Caribbean Studies, on the economic empowerment of women as a driver for inclusive prosperity. Her address included an analysis of the tools and strategies to be considered for the promotion of economic development with an emphasis on women, highlighting issues such as competitiveness, innovation, technology and citizen participation. "Global competitiveness is doomed to failure in the absence of an active role for women in the economic strategy of a country," she said, and declared that it is necessary to have an international strategy "to ensure a comprehensive approach to development."

Nelson highlighted some of the positive aspects that have marked the development of women in the Caribbean, including that, according to a study done in the United Kingdom in 2012, The Bahamas holds the top spot globally for economic participation and opportunity for women; the Caribbean is the region that has been designated as the best place to be a journalist and where nine percent of newspaper editors are women; and finally, Jamaica has the highest ratio of women in high-skilled jobs, such as legislators, senior officials and managers. She further cited some figures indicating the challenges of women in areas such as inequality, access to health services and education, lack of representation, violence and access to credit. "Female economic power also enhances the wealth and well-being of nations,” she said, and encouraged evaluation of the economic culture of nations to ensure that the Post-Millennium goals to be attained by 2030 can be achieved and that the issue of women's empowerment emphasized.

Finally, the expert in development noted that there are three areas in which substantial progress needs to be achieved to ensure the future of the nations of the Hemisphere: education and training in science, math, technology and engineering; innovation infrastructure that allows for the participation of women in the economy, and the development of leadership tools that make way for change agents. “But surely these things are needed for both men and women, boys and girls, but we know that plans and programs that are gender blind often continue biases that preserve the status quo, so a gendered perspective in design of policies and programs must be implemented,” she said.

International Year of Small Island Developing States

The Permanent Council also approved a declaration on the "International Year of Small Island Developing States", which states that the designation is a "a unique opportunity for the OAS to focus on the challenges and opportunities inherent" in such countries, and highlights the importance of issues such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction including early-warning systems of impending storms and tsunamis, education for sustainable development and the promotion of strategic industries like tourism.

Introducing the Draft Declaration on behalf of the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Permanent Representative of Barbados to the OAS, John Beale, explained that the initiative came when the United Nations in February approved the designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), "with the objective of highlighting the particular vulnerabilities facing this group of countries and the opportunities inherent in their geographic peculiarities.”

Ambassador Beale explained that these States are characterized by being low-lying coastal countries and share similar challenges related to small populations, vulnerability to natural disasters and excessive dependence on international trade. "Given that we are all guided by the principles and actions of the UN and given the immense importance of the challenges of climate change, CARICOM member states consider that the OAS should also recognize this designation," he said.

The Declaration adopted encourages member states, organs of the OAS, the institutions of the Inter-American system and all other related stakeholders to “take advantage of the International Year of SIDS to promote actions and to take specific measures towards the implementation of related commitments at all levels, including through international, regional and sub-regional cooperation, as appropriate, aimed at the achievement of sustainable development of Small Island Developing States.

During the meeting the representatives of Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, Colombia, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, the United States, Peru, The Bahamas, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and the Permanent Observer of France took the floor.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event will be available here.

The audio of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.