Ebola 'challenge' will promote unity in west Africa: AU chief

Medical workers, wearing protective suits, prepare prior to a burial for victims of the Ebola virus, in Monrovia, Liberia, on January 5, 2015 (AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso) (AFP/File)

Monrovia (AFP) - West Africa's Ebola epidemic could have a positive side by uniting the region's countries in their response to the "serious challenge," the acting head of the African Union said.

Regional experience in fighting the deadly virus "should consolidate our solidarity and our mutual support," AU chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the president of Mauritania,told journalists late Monday in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

The "serious challenge... will help countries in the region (to) come out more determined to unite through our bilateral relations which have been very strong," he added on the second leg of a tour of the three worst-hit countries.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf thanked the chairman of the pan-African body for help with funds, supplies and personnel, announcing that "30 African health workers (are) working with Liberia against the Ebola disease."

Abdel Aziz was in Monrovia after a swift visit to Guinea and he was awaited in neighbouring Sierra Leone on Tuesday.

Together, the three nations account for almost all of the 7,900 victims of the most virulent outbreak of the Ebola virus to date, also the first to hit west Africa.

The highly contagious disease, first identified in 1976 in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, was declared present in southern Guinea in December 2013. The virus is fatal, but victims can be helped to recovery by swift treatment of early symptoms in quarantine.

In his capacity as head of state, Abdel Aziz signed an agreement with Johnson Sirleaf for Mauritania to donate 37 million Liberian dollars (336,000 euros, $400,000) to Liberia to help combat the virus.