Director-General

WHO Director-General addresses UN Security Council on Ebola

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Address to emergency session of the UN Security Council
Peace and security in Africa (Ebola)
New York, USA

18 September 2014

Distinguished members of the Security Council, Mr Secretary General, Dr Nabarro.

Many of the governments you represent have been helping, with treatment facilities, mobile labs, hundreds of medical staff, and money. I thank you.

This virus, this deadly and dreaded Ebola virus, got ahead of us in a fast-moving outbreak as described by Dr Nabarro, that keeps delivering one surprise after another. Now we must catch up, in the most urgent and pragmatic way possible.

In the hardest hit countries, an exponentially rising caseload threatens to push governments to the brink of state failure.

WHO has successfully managed many big outbreaks in recent years.

But this Ebola event is different. Very different.

This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced.

None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale, with this degree of suffering, and with this magnitude of cascading consequences.

This is not just an outbreak. This is not just a public health crisis. This is a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones.

This week, the World Bank Group warned of a “potentially catastrophic blow” to the economies of the hardest-hit countries.

In some areas, hunger has become an even greater concern than the virus.

For example, the fertile fields of Lofa County, once Liberia’s breadbasket, are now fallow. In that county alone, nearly 170 farmers and their family members have died from Ebola.

For these reasons, Mr Secretary-General and I are calling for a UN-wide initiative that draws together all the assets of all relevant UN agencies.

In my talks with the presidents of the three affected countries, in my recent speeches made in the US and Europe, I have consistently, vehemently called for an immediate and massive increase in international support as described by Dr David Nabarro. We have spelled out our most urgent needs in the Roadmap and the 12 appeals.

I and my staff wholeheartedly welcome the announcements from the US and UK governments earlier this week.

This is a massive ramp-up of support that brings a transformational change in our collective capacity to get a grip on this outbreak and bring it under control.

That announcement was a statement of concern at the highest level of government, but also a clarion call for other countries to follow. Many are doing so, and we look forward to many more.

The fact that the US, UK, China, Cuba and other countries are using a variety of assets, including military assets, speaks to the complexity of the challenge.

This surge of support could help turn things around for the roughly 22 million people, in the hardest-hit countries, whose lives and societies have been shattered, shattered by one of the most horrific diseases on this planet.

Support from the UN and its agencies is also undergoing a transformational ramp-up under the leadership of Mr Secretary-General. The scale of deployment to Africa of WHO staff, and international staff under its outbreak umbrella, is unprecedented in the history of WHO.

Everything now is “unprecedented”. Everything now is happening faster than ever before. The needs are immense, and we know it.

Distinguished members of the Security Council,

Reports show that more than 5500 people have been infected. Well over 2500 have died. And these shocking figures are vast underestimates. Health, medical, and clinical issues must remain the heart and soul and the spirit of this response.

It will take some time, but the Ebola outbreak can be contained. Look at the stable situation in Nigeria and Senegal. When the first imported cases in these two countries occurred, we knew very well what we were dealing with.

Government ownership and leadership supported by CDC, Doctors without Borders, and WHO responded immediately with the right emergency actions.

We face a situation of unprecedented population movements criss-crossing west Africa’s porous borders. Other countries will have to deal, in the same aggressive way, with imported cases, especially in this era of unprecedented international air travel.

As support for the UN-coordinated response continues to pour in, I am confident we can do so.

Thank you, Madame President.

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