New York

02 September 2014

Deputy Secretary-General’s Remarks at Meeting with the Member States on Ebola

I welcome the Member States to this meeting on Ebola at such a short notice.

I also particularly welcome to this briefing Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. David Nabarro, who serves as the Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Ebola.  I am also joined by Executive Director of UNICEF, Tony Lake and my UN colleagues from DPKO, DFS, and OCHA and Tim Evans, World Bank Senior Director for Health.  I am also pleased to welcome Ms. Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who has joined us from Canada today.

The current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is critically serious and deeply worrying.  Although only a few countries have been affected, three of them severely, other countries are increasingly concerned, rightly so, about the possibility of further spread.

The health systems in the affected countries are overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the problems.  These countries are finding it extremely difficult to cope.  We, the international community, must now step up our efforts and boost the capacity of the affected countries and their systems and provide all support needed.

The outbreak is more than a health crisis.  It has already taken a disproportionate toll on economies and affected the daily life and the very fabric of families and societies.   

The fear factor plays a strong role in the crisis.  I encourage the Member States and businesses and individuals as well, to take decisions based on scientific evidence, not on fear.  Misinformation about Ebola can only exacerbate an already dire or fragile situation in the impacted countries and beyond. 

There have been strong responses by governments, multilateral and regional organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners.  I thank them for their support but encourage them to do more and to do so rapidly.  I particularly want to commend MSF for their quick and solid response.  I would also like to particularly thank the governments of those affected countries for their political will and determination to come to grips with the problem.  Financial resources and a unique mix of capacities to come into those countries are needed immediately so that the spread of the disease can be contained rapidly.

As far as the UN is concerned, this is one of the most serious health challenges we have ever faced.  The reality on the ground is no different from those caused by natural calamities and conflicts of great magnitude – and in some ways even more difficult with dire consequences in several other areas of society.  At the country level, an enormous amount of work is already being done by the UN Missions, peacekeeping operations and UN Country Teams.  

But we cannot do it alone.  We need effective strategies, partnerships, and capacities. There cannot be any weak links in this operational chain.  We also need to think in unconventional terms and demonstrate speed and flexibility in defining and executing our strategies.  We are faced with severe strains on our own staff working in these difficult conditions.  We may need to involve Member States in this coordination task. I recall the Tsunami in Southeast Asia and the Haiti earthquake when we had a more active role of Member States in those operations.

The Secretary-General has established a United Nations System Ebola Virus Disease coordination mechanism to ensure that we offer integrated support to affected countries, while helping to prevent spread to other countries. 

This coordination mechanism will be guided by the leadership provided by WHO and by its Ebola Response Roadmap.  Dr. Nabarro, who has just returned from visiting the affected countries, will as Senior UN Coordinator ensure effective UN system wide response.

With these remarks, I now would like to invite Dr. Chan to provide an update on the outbreak.