19 December 2014

At Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone, Secretary-General Tells Caregivers ‘You Are Bringing Your Country and the Entire World to a More Hopeful Place’

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Ebola Treatment Unit in Hastings, Sierra Leone, today:

It is an honour to be with you today.

I thank Rebecca Johnson for her moving story.  What a remarkable journey: from Ebola caregiver to Ebola survivor — and then back again to caregiver.  What is even more extraordinary is her dedication.  Thank you for showing us that, as you said so memorably, “Ebola is not the end of the world”.

I would like to stress how impressed I am by the essential work you are doing at this treatment centre — and by the contributions of hundreds of workers providing treatment in countries suffering through this terrible outbreak.

Even more than your work, I am deeply inspired by you yourselves, as individuals.  You are heroes.  You have looked at a lethal threat and said, “I am not afraid.”  Instead of retreating, you have stepped forward and asked, “How can I help?”  Rather than shunning the afflicted, you have embraced them with tender loving care.

In reaching out to the victims, you have touched the world.  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.  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.

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.  This work has come at a heavy cost to caregivers themselves.

Just yesterday, we had to absorb the sad news of the death of Dr. Victor Willoughby.  I know that many call him the father of medicine in Sierra Leone — for his own work but also because he trained so many of the country’s physicians and doctors.  I want to express my condolences to his family, friends and all others touched by this loss.

I also want to salute the courage of all health workers, and to offer my 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.

I want to use this moment to express the solidarity of the United Nations system with you all.  The past months have been filled with sorrow.  The virus has eaten away at the very fabric of society — how people live, how they love, how they die.  It has left hundreds of thousands of people facing hunger.

Ebola has put unique strains on children.  Thousands have been orphaned.  Five million are out of school.  The health care so critical in one’s early years is unavailable.

The impact is profoundly intimate.  Ebola keeps families from tending to grandparents, a father from hugging his child, a mother from wiping the tear from her baby’s eyes.  Sports and games have been curtailed.  Public Christmas observances have been cancelled. Some of the simple joys of childhood are gone.  Imagine how bewildered the children must be.  Consider what this means for their future.

Here in Sierra Leone, you had painstakingly put years of war behind you.  I visited earlier this year to join in the celebration of your country’s re-birth.  Liberia had also turned its back on conflict.  Guinea was making economic and educational gains.  Now the region faces a new test.

The United Nations is strongly committed to working with you to stop Ebola in its tracks.  Here in Hastings, you are showing the way.  This treatment unit is achieving a survival rate far above what we are seeing elsewhere.  I am told that not a single staff member has been infected since it opened.

Each of you — whether doctor or nurse, lab or support staff, pharmacist or burial team — is part of that success.  You are showing what Sierra Leoneans themselves — and Liberians, Guineans and Malians — can do to meet this challenge.

The United Nations and the international community have mobilized behind you.  African countries, large and small, have provided doctors, mobile clinics and funding.

These efforts are showing the immense value of international cooperation.  We are seeing a slowdown in the number of new cases.  In some places, the Ebola response strategy is working well.  The Western Area Surge should lead to a big improvement in the situation in and around Freetown.  But of course, in other places, we have more work to do — much more.

Ebola remains a global crisis, and we must stop it at its source.  The only acceptable goal is zero cases.  A single case is all it takes to start an outbreak.  All of us, whoever we work for, must remain super-vigilant.  Our task is to prevent Ebola from becoming endemic in the region.

The crisis will end when the last person to experience Ebola is under treatment and there is no other case for at least 42 days.  To do this, there will be a constant need for reliable data, skilled professionals, good management, effective coordination, and finance.

Our task, within the UN system, is to help you locate and access these resources.  We cannot rest till you have what you need to complete the task.  There can be no let-up.

We need to get kids back in school, fields planted, and markets up and running again.  And beyond halting Ebola, we need to build up health systems and other infrastructure that will forestall something similar occurring in the future.

We owe this to millions of people across West Africa whose lives have been disrupted and plunged into misery.  We owe this to the health-care workers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in answering the call of service.

To all the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, I say: The United Nations has stood with you for years in your quest for development and peace, and we will continue to be your close partner now. 

Thank you again for your leadership in the Ebola response.  It has been an honour to see you in action here today.  In your person and in your work, you are the embodiment of compassion and commitment.  In bringing comfort to those in need, you are bringing your country and the entire world to a more hopeful place.

For information media. Not an official record.