|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
High-Level Meeting on Response
to Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak
‘Every Day, Every Minute, Counts,’ Warns World Health Organization Head
at High-Level Meeting on Response to Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak
With the Ebola virus claiming the lives of 200 people each day, most of them women, world leaders at a high-level Headquarters meeting Thursday implored the international community to swiftly ramp up the response to the epidemic ravaging West Africa before it turned into a humanitarian catastrophe.
“Every day, every minute, counts,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), insisting “We must try harder.” Overflowing treatment centres were turning away sick and dying patients. In some areas no treatment beds were available, she said, stressing the need for more centres, as well as community-based care facilities.
United States President Barack Obama agreed. “We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough. Right now, everybody has the best of intentions, but people are not putting in the kind of resources that are necessary to put a stop to this epidemic,” he said.
The worst ever outbreak of the virus already had caused a collapse of the public health systems in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — the three most affected countries. If left unchecked, the crisis could quickly become a global threat; stopping it was in everyone’s interest. Last week, the Security Council determined that the outbreak was a threat to international peace and security, adopting resolution 2177 (2014) to that effect.
Mr. Obama today called on international organizations to “cut through red tape and mobilize partners on the ground”, and on Governments to contribute more critical assets such as air transport, medical evacuation, health-care workers and equipment.
For its part, the United States had set up a military command on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, to support civilian efforts across West Africa in order to treat and contain the virus, he said. It was working with Senegal to set up an air bridge to get health workers and medical supplies to the region faster, and was setting up a field hospital and training facility, and new treatment units across the region capable of caring for thousands of sick people.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said advance teams had already deployed to the three most-affected countries and to the newly formed United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), based in Accra, Ghana, which would lead the Organization’s system-wide response. “We are focusing on stopping the outbreak, treating the infected, providing essential services, preserving stability, and preventing outbreaks in non-affected countries,” he said.
The crisis had highlighted the need to strengthen early identification systems and action, he said. The international community should consider forming a stand-by “white coats” corps of medical professionals, backed by WHO expertise and the United Nations logistical capacity.
“Now is the time for a robust and united effort to stop the outbreak. The world can and must stop Ebola — now,” he said, warning that while dozens of countries and organizations were making lifesaving contributions, they fell short of the 20-fold increase required.
Leaders of the affected countries, speaking via videoconference, said that at a time when they were consolidating peace and democracy after years of conflict, the Ebola virus had pushed them to the brink of economic collapse, destroying jobs and income, threatening livelihoods, fuelling prices, and limiting movement. The long-standing custom and desire of families in the region to care directly for their sick loved ones and to bury their dead had expedited the spread of the highly contagious disease, as had the international community’s ostracism.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said “partners and friends, based on understandable fears, have ostracized us, shipping and airline services have sanctioned us and the world has taken some time to fully appreciate and adequately respond to the enormity of our tragedy”.
More than 1,700 Liberians had died already, among them 85 health-care workers, she said. Facing perhaps its greatest challenge ever, her nation was fighting back, building and staffing more treatment centres, and moving more aggressively to prevent the disease’s spread and to change the behaviour at the local level through community outreach.
“We cannot allow the projection of a worst-case scenario: that over 100,000 of our innocent citizens will die from an enemy disease they did not start and do not understand, that the resulting effect will reverse our gains in malaria control and child and maternal mortality,” she said.
Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, said he had declared a state of emergency, shutting down the country for three days to get more than 27,000 health-care educators into every household in the country and reallocating millions of dollars from other vital services to combat Ebola.
To contain the outbreak, he said, more treatment centres, laboratories, equipment, health-care workers and training for local doctors and nurses on safe, effective clinical and nutritional interventions was needed. He urged States to lift the ban on flights to and from the affected countries and supply ambulances and logistical support to improve response time.
Alpha Condé, President of Guinea, said the outbreak was a threat to international peace and security. The response should be used to rebuild and strengthen the affected countries’ infrastructure so that once the crisis was over they could again foster economic growth and maintain stability.
Alassane Ouattara, President of neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, said his Government had shown solidarity with the affected countries since the outbreak began, providing $1 million through the support fund of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It had reopened ports to allow the United States’ military to reach affected communities and was poised to resume air traffic next week.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said the Union had begun to deploy to Liberia its first team of medical workers, including experts from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had dealt with previous Ebola outbreaks. The Union would send other teams to Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, ECOWAS President, said the Commission had set up a ministerial committee comprising ECOWAS health ministers, which had met recently in Ghana, as well as mapped out an operational regional plan to check the virus’ spread. The Nigerian Government had offered to train personnel from non-Ebola affected States, he noted.
World Bank President Jim Kim warned that if the United States Centre for Disease Control’s worst-case scenario came true of more than 1 million infections in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January, Africa’s recent impressive economic growth gains would be wiped out. “We’re talking about nothing less than the potential meltdown of this continent,” he said, calling for “effective prevention and treatment to every village and every community”.
Nine days ago, the World Bank approved $105 million for the response and had already disbursed that amount. It would commit a total of $400 million, he said.
National Governments also announced pledges to fight the scourge. The United Kingdom Parliamentary Under-Secretary-General for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, James Duddridge, announced $160 million for Ebola treatment facilities. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe committed $40 million; Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi announced a 200 million yuan aid package, as well as $2 million each to WHO and the African Union, in addition to the 200 million yuan already sent to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The European Union’s funding stood at almost €150 million, in addition to €11 million in emergency support to WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières and €5 million to the African Union’s joint public health, military and civilian mission, said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his Government had given €70 million to the global effort; Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Miller said his Administration had committed $25 million to WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières.
Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se announced $5 million; Nigerian Foreign Minister Aminu Wali announced $3.5 million for the ECOWAS support fund and $2 million for epidemiological services. South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsolaedi announced his country’s intention to create a 40-bed field hospital, among other support, and noted that Namibia, as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), would contribute $1 million to the response effort.
Timor-Leste Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmãopledged $1 million in an act of “fragile-to-fragile” and South-South cooperation. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz committed $100,000. Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parilla and Senegalese Minister for Foreign Affairs Mankeur Ndiaye also discussed their health-care personnel and other support to the affected countries.
Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, welcomed the generous pledges, but warned that they would mean little unless translated into immediate action. The surge promised had yet to deliver. Fear and panic set in as infection rates doubled every three weeks. “Today Ebola is winning,” she said, stressing that the new isolation centre promised by the international community must be established now along with a massive effort to create a safe vaccine.
Elhadj As Sy, Secretary-General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said its 25,000 volunteers had buried 1,353 diseased people. In Guinea, it had carried out 97 per cent of all burials. The Federation’s single treatment centre alongside that of Médecins Sans Frontières was not enough. With the international community’s support, it could do more. Social reconciliation and healing were also vital.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson also spoke, as did Helen Clark, Chair of the United Nations Development Group and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
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