Monrovia, Liberia

19 December 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at joint press conference with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

Thank you, Madame President, for your very kind welcome and hospitality and recognition of the United Nations and the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) work in this.

I am very pleased to visit Liberia again, but this time with a very unique and very important mission. I am here to demonstrate our strong partnership and solidarity and assurance of support for the people and Government of Liberia in addressing this Ebola outbreak.

I am very pleased to have a very good meeting with President Johnson Sirleaf, and before coming here I had also a very meaningful meeting with many distinguished representatives, of international and national Government representatives and civil society NGO representatives, who have been working tirelessly, selflessly to help fight back this Ebola outbreak.

I want to convey, Madame President, to the people of Liberia a direct and personal message:

The United Nations has stood with your country through challenging times before.  We are committed to stand with you now as you face this merciless threat.  We will be with you until the outbreak is under control and the country has recovered.

Today we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that this terrible outbreak can be defeated. The spread of the virus is slowing in Liberia. Above all, this is a tribute to the dedication and commitment of Liberians.  Our response strategy is working. More people are gaining access to treatment. More contacts are being traced. Burials are becoming safer. Communities are mobilizing to protect themselves.

Now is not the time to ease our efforts.  We have witnessed how just one case can trigger an epidemic.

We have a long way to go. Zero cases – in Liberia and this entire region – must be everyone’s goal.  The United Nations system is wholly committed to supporting all affected and at-risk communities to contain the Ebola outbreak and end this crisis.

I thank, immensely, H.E. President Sirleaf Johnson for her strong leadership and commitment and vision to contain and address this Ebola outbreak. This requires political will and leadership at your level, and the United Nations is ready to fully support and work with you, Madame President.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my great admiration and respect for the thousands of national and international responders who are making life-saving contributions on the front-lines, including the United States, which has sent so many of its civilians and military personnel to join this fight against this Ebola outbreak. The United States and many other countries and civil societies - their commitment and compassion are truly inspiring.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Looking ahead, the number of cases is still high. But our approach is adapting to the shifting evolution of the outbreak as it becomes more geographically dispersed.

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.

The long-term socio-economic impacts are likely to be significant.

Even as we focus on stopping transmission today, it is not too soon to start working on recovery for tomorrow. 

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.

The mobilization of the international community behind the affected countries has been tremendous. I appeal to the international community to stay engaged. 

I appeal to all national stakeholders to work together to preserve Liberia’s hard-won peace.

Madame President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me take this opportunity to say a few words about the election. I know that tomorrow is Liberia’s senatorial election day. This will be the third national election since the end of the brutal civil war. This election will give Liberia and its people an opportunity to show the world how far it has come. 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.

The United Nations – and I personally – pledge to help the people of Liberia at this time of need.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Q: My name is Moses Gazia, I come from the Liberian Broadcasting system:  You met with the team of the incident management system today and were briefed on the situation on the Ebola crisis in Liberia.  What are the challenges that you think that still need to be addressed?

SG: As I said earlier in my remarks, I met Minister Tolbert and many other leaders of international civil society, leaders who have been working selflessly, tirelessly with the Liberian Government and people.  I highly command their leadership and commitment.

As I said, there are still challenges -- many, many, many challenges are there.  As a first stage of your addressing Ebola crisis may have to be a transition to a second phase, where we will have to identify gaps and identify this -- tracing the context of this virus.  We will have to have more resources, human and logistical and financial support.

At this time, I’d  like to command the Liberian people for their cooperating with the health guidelines set by the World Health Organization, meaning that 70% of identifying and isolating the patients who have been affected and 70% of decent and sound way of burial of the deceased.

It might have been very difficult to change such long-held tradition and culture, but it is absolutely necessary to abide by World Health Organization path guidelines, what they call protocols; otherwise it will be very difficult to contain this virus and make it a  zero-case goal achieved.

I am urging all the people, and particularly community leaders and religious leaders, to abide strictly by this health protocol.  I know that Liberians have even surpassed the 70% goal, but we need to do it 100% now, identifying the patients and giving them professional medical support.  And if unfortunately anybody dies, then they should be buried with dignity, in accordance with medical guidelines.  Thank you.

Q: Sebastien Baba from the University Radio: Recently the Security Council extended the mandate of UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia), but there might be concerns that the country might not be able to meet the contributions due to Ebola.  Will the UN consider assisting the country in the gaps of funding?

SG: I have been discussing this possibility of drawing down UNMIL, as you have been coming out of this civil war and you have been able to build your own political and social stability. As has been shown during last presidential elections, that is commendable.  However with all this Ebola crisis, I made the recommendation to the Security Council that we should defer this further drawing-down of UNMIL forces, and they agreed to my proposal.  I discussed this matter with the President this morning.  At the same time, it is the expectation of the United Nations,  particularly the Security Council, that the Liberian Government should continue to strengthen their national security capacity, so that by 2016, we will be able to carry on this previously scheduled drawdown of UNMIL.  The United Nations will continue to closely coordinate and work with the Liberian Government to help meet this goal.  Thank you.