UN News, New York
The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon appealed to members of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this week “to do whatever it takes” to help the West African countries hardest hit by Ebola grow back stronger and more resilient, while the head of the UN health agency noted that the “fear of Ebola is moving faster than the virus” itself.
“The international response to date has been unprecedented in its speed and generosity, but much more will be asked before this emergency is over,” the Secretary-General told a special ECOSOC meeting at UN headquarters on “Ebola: A threat to sustainable development.”
“Today, let us resolve to do whatever it takes to assist the Governments of the affected countries to recover stronger and more resilient from the Ebola crisis,” Mr. Ban said.
ECOSOC President, Martin Sajdik, who convened the meeting, said Council members stand ready to help mobilize all partners, including a network of non-governmental organizations, to ensure that economic and social recovery efforts help stabilize the worst-affected countries and strengthen their preparedness to prevent future outbreaks.
“While the Security Council and the General Assembly are focused on mobilizing international support for stopping the outbreak in the short-term, the ECOSOC must begin to plan for a post-Ebola response that will ensure that the affected countries do not fall too far off track from progress already achieved towards the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals],” Mr. Sajdik said.
Mr. Ban, who opened the meeting, noted that the social and economic impact of the Ebola crisis in West Africa has been broad and deep and would long outlast the outbreak.
“Incomes are down. Prices have risen. Markets are bare. People are hungry,” he said. “That is why it is imperative that while we work to end the Ebola outbreak, we must also begin to focus on recovery.”
His Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, briefed on the current state of the epidemic based on his just concluded visit to Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone, which has now reached 17,517 cases with 6,187 deaths, according to WHO’s most recent statistics.
In his remarks, Dr. Nabarro said: “Even as we fight Ebola, attention must be on helping the affected societies to build back better. This involves, for example, building local capacity of national health workers by integrating them in the response.”
“The Ebola outbreak has crippled the health sector in the three worst affected countries. There was already a shortage of health workers,” the UN envoy noted in those remarks. “For example, Sierra Leone had only two doctors for every 100,000 people – approximately 120 doctors for six million people before the Ebola outbreak began.”
The Director-General of UN World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan noted by video-link from Geneva that the “fear of Ebola is moving faster than the virus.”
“This is the largest, longest, most severe, and most complex Ebola epidemic,” Dr. Chan said, noting that what began as a health crisis has become a humanitarian crisis, with social, economic, and security implications.
The President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, noted that the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) estimates show that at least 7,500 children have lost one or two parents to Ebola, while schools have remained closed indefinitely, leaving an estimated five million children out of school.
Also addressing the special meeting were Government representatives from Guinea, Sierra Leone.
Dr. Paul Farmer, who is Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Community-based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti, served as moderator and took part in an interactive dialogue portion of the meeting, flagged the importance of finding a way to link development with capacity building in the affected countries. For example, Dr. Farmer said, training infectious disease doctors would contribute to the health infrastructure in the long-term.
The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), meanwhile, reported today that Guinea-Bissau had announced that it would reopen the country’s official border crossings with Guinea within five days.
Guinea-Bissau had closed the border in August 2014 in an effort to prevent cross-border transmission of Ebola, according to UNMEER, and explained that a recent summit of Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had recommended the reopening of borders with the most affected countries to accelerate response efforts and avoid stigmatization of their populations.
WHO today made available in a Q and A format a snapshot of the current state of clinical trials and evaluations of potential vaccines and therapies for Ebola.
The UN health agency also said it will be bringing to Geneva next week health and finance ministers, non-state actors, donors and international technical agencies with the aim of laying the foundation for stronger health systems in the medium- to long-term in the Ebola-affected countries.