Chance Ebola Can Be Defeated by End of 2015, World Health Organization Chief Tells Security Council, Urging Sustained Focus to Prevent Future Outbreaks
Ebola could be “soundly defeated” by the end of the year if the intensity of case detection and contact tracing was sustained, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) told the Security Council today, outlining reforms to improve the organization’s performance and crediting unwavering leadership, especially in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, for a “night-and-day” difference in the situation from less than a year ago.
Margaret Chan, briefing the Council via video link from Hong Kong, was joined by David Nabarro, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Ebola; Tété António, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations; Per Thöresson (Sweden), on behalf of Olof Skoog, Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission; and Mosoka Fallah, Director of the Community-Based Initiative.
“I can assure you: the progress is real and it has been hard-earned,” said Ms. Chan, stressing that surveillance and response capacities had vastly improved. New cases in Liberia had again stopped, while Guinea and Sierra Leone had together reported only three cases during the past two weeks, the lowest numbers in more than a year.
At the same time, she cautioned against a false sense of security, as all it took was one undetected case in a health facility, one infected contact fleeing the monitoring system or unsafe burial to ignite a flare-up. Success hinged on “getting to zero and staying at zero”. Most agreed that the lack of public health capacities and infrastructures created the greatest vulnerability to Ebola.
With that in mind, the WHO was designing a blueprint for the rapid development of new medical products for a future outbreak, and next month, would evaluate with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the performance of three rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests. At the WHO, she was overseeing the creation of a global health emergency work force, a fast-acting operational platform, as well as performance benchmarks and the funding needed to make those changes happen. “The world has learned from the Ebola experience,” she said.
Speaking from Geneva, Mr. Nabarro said implementation of the United Nations response “went well” when people at risk felt in control of their lives and when community leaders took part in directing the response, defining the support they required and accessing the necessary assistance. In practice, the response had not consistently prioritized community ownership, which was now understood to be an essential ingredient. Going forward, he urged technical, operational and financial solidarity with the affected counties.
Broadly agreeing, Mr. Antonio said the speedy deployment of human resources was critical. It had taken less than four weeks for the African Union’s support initiative to be deployed. Flexibility also was important in clearly defining a support strategy, but not dictating terms. Partnership, in particular with the African private sector, was also critical in the spirit of Africa helping Africans. The Union’s convening power and political leverage had brought together technical expertise from 18 Member States, non-governmental organizations, Africans in the Diaspora and others.
In that context, Mr. Fallah shared an “historic” lesson from the West Point slum in Liberia, where distrust of the Government ran high and hid the sick. “We realized that, if we were going to win the fight against Ebola, we needed to involve the community.” Within two weeks, there had been a dramatic change, and the project was asked to replicate the experiment in other areas. The idea was to create trust and empower communities.
When the floor was opened for debate, Council members agreed on the need for vigilance and “relentless” work to bring Ebola transmission to zero. The virus would exploit the slightest delay in the collective response. While weak public institutions and health systems required sustained international support, the primary responsibility for the care, safety and health of people rested with the political leadership, many agreed.
“The heaviest burden falls on us,” said Sierra Leone’s representative, noting that his country would look to others with fully developed systems that could be adapted to local conditions. It also would listen to the lessons learned from its communities: that anything done in their name must fully reflect local cultures and values. Logistical, scientific and diplomatic efforts must be in harmony, and institutional siloes must operate as one. “We are all committed to seeing the back of this disease,” he said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, Chad, France, Angola, Chile, Jordan, China, United Kingdom, Spain, Lithuania, Venezuela, Malaysia, New Zealand and Nigeria.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:56 p.m.