Secretary-General's remarks at joint press conference with President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone [scroll down for Q&A]
Sierra Leone, Freetown, 19 December 2014
I am very pleased to visit [Sierra Leone] for the third time as a Secretary-General of the United Nations.
I want to talk about my relationship with Sierra Leone, and how much I have been enjoying working with the President and how much I have been witnessing your political and socio-economic growth since 2001 when there was UNAMSIL [United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone]. Then UNAMSIL was transformed into UNIPSIL [UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone]. And finally, with all this political and socio-economic development, [Sierra Leone] is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa, the United Nations and Sierra Leone have agreed that you may not need any particular United Nations engagement, particularly in the political and security areas.
This was a moment of pride and an achievement for you. For the United Nations, it was also a moment with a sense of achievement that we were able to do something for the longer-term interest, peace and security and development of Sierra Leone. That’s why I was here [in March 2014] with a very proud, lighter heart to participate in this celebration of closing down the United Nations special political mission.
Now, I’m standing here with concern about what has impacted your country unexpectedly. You have overcome one, we call, man-made conflict, man-made problems, but now you have been hit with Ebola, which is very unique and extraordinary in its nature.
With all the team, with the Director of WHO [World Health Organization], we are here to demonstrate and reaffirm our strong commitment and solidarity, which has been shown in the past. But this time, we will not be here 10 years, 11 years; it should be a short-term goal.
I think we can make it happen. You have such good leadership, President Koroma, and good teams, Ministers, and civil society. I think we can do it and I am here to reaffirm the United Nations’ strong commitment.
I want to convey a direct message to the citizens of Sierra Leone: the United Nations has stood with your country through challenging times before. We will stand with Sierra Leone until the outbreak is under control and the country has recovered from its impact.
Thanks to national leadership, the engagement of affected communities and the support of global partners, significant progress has been made in slowing the spread of the virus in some parts of the country.
However, Ebola continues to spread. It poses a serious risk to all Sierra Leoneans. The United Nations system, UNMEER [UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response], other leaders like Anthony Banbury, and also strong advocates like my Special Envoy, and our partners – international, regional and national – as well as civil society partners, NGOs, are here to help. Working together has never been more important.
Stopping the outbreak will require all the country’s people – government officials, community leaders, traditional healers, and communities themselves – to take ownership of the response.
I was reaffirmed and reassured by President Koroma that you are going to take ownership and that this whole social mobilization will be done under the leadership of President Koroma. This is very reassuring.
We have a long way to go still. Zero cases must be everyone’s goal, with the World Health Organization providing strategic vision, guidance and direction, and the United Nations combining its crisis management experience, and me, as Secretary-General, working together with world leaders, mobilizing political will, social, financial and logistic support. And working together with many NGOs and partners, I think we can do it.
President Koroma and I discussed the recent increase in transmission in the west of the country, including Freetown.
I applaud and fully support the launch of Operation Western Area Surge to help get the outbreak under control. The UN system, through UNMEER, is lending its full support to this critical effort. We continue to adapt our approach to the shifting evolution of the outbreak.
The increase in transmission in Kono District highlights the need for better surveillance and rapid response capacities in all districts.
I thank President Koroma for his leadership.
I would also like to express my great admiration for the thousands of national and international responders who are making life-saving contributions on the front-lines. I had a very moving meeting with them earlier today in Hastings.
This story of Ms. Rebecca Johnson was truly moving and touching. And I met several men and women who showed me their certificates that they were completely cured and recovered. Rebecca was a caregiver, she was a victim. Now she is a survivor and she went back to being a caregiver. What a nice human moving story.
In the course of this, you have lost many people, thousands of people. Particularly, I would like to express my deepest condolence for the passing of Dr. Victor Willoughby, who was the father of your medicine, who trained and educated so many distinguished doctors in your country.
We should make sure that whatever he has left unfulfilled, you have and we have to fulfill. That is our strong commitment. Let us commit ourselves that we will work together, that we must see the end of this crisis, until we finish at zero, at the last case.
In addition to the immediate toll of the Ebola outbreak, the long-term socio-economic impacts are likely to be significant.
Even as we focus on the immediate threat of further transmission, it is not too soon to start working on recovery.
We must scale up our efforts to re-establish basic social services, strengthen health systems, support economic activity and build up the country’s overall resilience.
The mobilization of countries across Africa and across the world has been tremendous. I appeal to the international community to stay engaged.
I appeal to all national stakeholders to work together to preserve Sierra Leone’s hard-won peace. I joined you earlier this year to witness the closing [of the final United Nations peace operation in this country].
Sierra Leone has come a long way from war to peace. The United Nations – and I personally – pledge to remain strongly committed to helping the people of Sierra Leone meet this new test.
Thank you very much.
Q: What is being done by the United Nations to support women and children who are the most affected by Ebola?
SG: Thank you for your question. I think it is the responsibility of the United Nations and of President Koroma to do more.
The Security Council and the General Assembly were very wise and very right in emphasizing the importance of paying attention to the well-being and security of women. This is one of the top priorities and the United Nations has been taking a lot of initiatives for the well-being of children.
It is women and children who, whenever conflict occurs, whenever this type of epidemic occurs, make [up] most of the victims. Therefore, we are paying much, much more attention.
UNMEER’s Sierra Leone Office has established a gender division, so we will pay much more attention to women and children’s welfare.
But this is a continuous United Nations commitment and principle.
Q: What is your assessment of the outbreak based on your visits today? Are you able to make any projection for this objective of zero cases?
SG: I have visited two centres today. One is the British Council, the United Kingdom runs this centre. I was very much impressed, this is well structured and well organized and I have seen many Sierra Leonean volunteers who have been working there, including identifying the patients, how to collect the patients and how to admit them to the treatment units and finally, if something goes wrong, if one has seen a lack of fate, then dignified burial. Those are four areas which we have to pay due attention. This system was doing very well.
My meeting at Hastings centre, again, I met so many health workers and doctors, survivors like Rebecca Johnson. They showed me proudly their certificate that they were cured, completely free of Ebola. It is for that kind of centre and treatment facilities and beds that we are trying to do all we can.
UNMEER has five priorities. First of all, stop the virus. Second, treat the people infected. Third, make sure, ensure that all essential support will be given. Fourth, we want to help the Sierra Leonean Government to preserve stability, socially, economically and politically. Last but not least, prevent further outbreaks for other people.
Post-Ebola is also very important, this is what I have discussed with the President and as I said earlier in my remarks, the United Nations continue to mobilize their country teams and development teams.
Q: There is widespread belief that the Ebola outbreak is artificial and was caused by the rest of the world. What do you answer to this?
SG: This is something that is unsubstantiated, there is no such evidence, there is no substance to the rumors that the outbreak was in any way created by humans or in any other parts of the world.
It is important that we address these issues on a scientific base. It is very important that [we follow] science-based [policies], provided by the World Health Organization, the highest authoritative organization when Ebola or any other diseases are concerned.
This will help what is an element of the Sustainable Development Goals in the future.
Off-the-Cuff on 19 December 2014