Ban visits Ebola-hit West Africa, says zero cases “must be everyone’s goal”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shakes hand with Rebecca Johnson, an Ebola surviving nurse. UN Photo/Martine Perret

19 December 2014 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that there is reason to be “cautiously optimistic” about defeating the Ebola crisis in West Africa, as he made a series of visits to countries most-affected by the unprecedented outbreak, which has sickened some 18,000 people and killed close to 7,000 others throughout the region.

During a meeting in Monrovia with Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, to discuss UN support for the country to contain the spread of Ebola, Mr. Ban praised Liberia’s achievements to date, stressing the importance of remaining vigilant in the fight against the disease.

“Now is not the time to ease our efforts. We have witnessed how just one case can trigger an epidemic,” he said. “We have a long way to go. Zero cases – in Liberia and this entire region – must be everyone’s goal.”

Despite his call for caution, he also noted the slowing spread of the virus, paying tribute to the dedication and commitment of Liberians, which was vital in ensuring that the response strategy was working.

“More people are gaining access to treatment. More contacts are being traced. Burials are becoming safer. Communities are mobilizing to protect themselves,” he said.

Later in the day, the Secretary-General visited an Ebola treatment centre in neighbouring Sierra Leone and he again praised the response to the outbreak, singling out Ebola fighters for special acclaim.

“You are heroes,” he told the workers, “You have shown the most noble face of humankind. You have come to the aid of family members, friends, fellow citizens – anyone caught in the grip of the vicious Ebola virus.”

He noted the heavy toll that the disease took from caregivers, saluting their courage and offering condolences to the families and friends of all who have died in responding to the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Mali, including the renowned doctor, Victor Willoughby, a renowned doctor from Sierra Leone who died yesterday.

“The survivors among you have been to hell and back – and know intimately what it is like to be on the receiving end of treatment from women and men in protective gear,” he said. “All of you have helped to save many lives. Thanks to you, even many who did not survive were at least able to retain their dignity through their final moments.”

During both events, the Secretary-General underlined the global nature of the crisis and the strong commitment of the entire international community and the UN to tackling Ebola. In Monrovia, he described how the international response would adapt as the nature of the outbreak evolved.

“We need more robust contact tracing. We need greater preparedness at the district level. And the promising results that Liberia has experienced must be shared regionally to avoid the risk of re-transmission,” he said stressing the need to respond to the long-term socio-economic impacts by working on recovery at the same time as trying to stop transmissions.

“We must scale up our efforts to re-establish basic social services, strengthen health services, support economic activity and build up the country’s resilience. We are ready to help the Liberian Government and people to build your society, more resilient and stronger,” he said.

He concluded by emphasizing that the elections to be held in Liberia tomorrow offered the country a chance to show how far it had come after 10 years of hard-won peace and stability.

“This election will give Liberia and its people an opportunity to show the world how far it has come,” he said. “I urge all Liberians to do their part in ensuring that these elections are peaceful and objective; at the same time, to follow public health guidelines against Ebola to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

In other news, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported on ongoing efforts to tame the outbreak along the front lines of the current “hotspot”, the Western Area of Sierra Leone .The Government, WHO and partners, are sending in a massive surge of staff and resources to this area to intensify efforts to curb the spread of the disease.

The emphasis of the so-called Western Are Surge operation is on convincing people to take personal responsibility for bringing this epidemic to an end – to put community before self. Ordinary people can save lives by calling the hotline to report possible Ebola cases or request a respectful burial.

The response targets Freetown and neighbouring areas to break chains of transmission by increasing the number of beds to ensure patients with clinical symptoms of Ebola are isolated and receive appropriate treatment.

“We are ready to give support to the teams who are investigating the cases. This includes providing hands-on support when they have challenges and difficult issues to solve,” says Dr Fikru Abebe, WHO epidemiologist involved in providing support to the teams on the ground.

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