Ebola response must include efforts to bolster health systems – UN Economic, Social Council chief

12 December 2014 | Press Releases

New York, 11 December 2014 – While the priority is to stop the Ebola outbreak, measures must also ensure that the emergency response is linked to longer-term efforts to strengthen health systems in those countries hit the hardest, President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said today.

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) outside a midwifery school where they are attending a training session on Ebola, in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Photo: UNICEF/John James

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) outside a midwifery school where they are attending a training session on Ebola, in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Photo: UNICEF/John James

Mr. Navid Hanif, Director of the ECOSOC Support and Coordination/Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) delivered the statement on behalf of the ECOSOC President, Martin Sajdik, during the daily press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

“We have to get the response right, Mr. Sajdik said in a Presidential Statement, stressing that the pledges for the Ebola response must have sustainable impact on the ground and leave behind the foundation for a robust public health system.

Expressing his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims of the outbreak, he also commended the tireless efforts of health workers and the governments of the affected countries, namely Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali.

Following up on its special meeting, “Ebola: A threat to sustainable development,” ECOSOC intends to contribute to the process of defining a coordinated and comprehensive response to minimize the economic and social impact of the outbreak.

Mr. Sajdik also commended the leadership of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN responsethrough the Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

It is critical for the international community to join forces to address the multidimensional nature of the Ebola outbreak that threatens millions of the poorest and the most vulnerable. Sustained global action includes funding, technical assistance and management of resources in the affected countries, Mr. Sajdik said in the statement, expressing concern over the low percentage of development aid being disbursed through national systems in the affected countries.

“Whenever possible, donors should be responsive to the financial needs defined by the government, including salary support for civil servants and front line health care workers,” he said, underscoring the need to consider debt relief and concessional loans for all affected countries.

The proposed Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa must be equipped with the latest technologies necessary to provide a response. In addition, it’s important to invest more resources in strengthening national institutions by investing directly through countries’ national institutions. Donors must prioritize the strengthening of its public sector, including health, education, sanitation and the economy, so as to safeguard affected countries against future crises.

“This will allow us to build health systems capable of responding to emergencies and of withstanding shocks such as Ebola,” he said.

A new cadre of salaried community health workers, doctors and nurses to the affected countries must be trained and deployed. Ebola survivors must be trained and hired. They could be instrumental in reducing stigma in the affected countries.

Mr. Sajdik also proposed that the UN system, under the leadership of the Secretary-General, conduct a comprehensive study on the economic and social impact of the Ebola outbreak, building on the work being done by the Economic Commission for Africa, the World Bank and the UN Development Programme.

“This study, to be considered by the Council in a follow-up meeting in 2015 could be part of a wider examination of all aspects of the impact of the Ebola outbreak. This study could also be considered by other relevant United Nations bodies,” he added.

Also today, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania as his new Special Representative and head of UNMEER.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed succeeds Anthony Banbury of the United States, who will return to New York in early January 2015. The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to Mr. Banbury for his vision and leadership of UNMEER, and for his commitment to fighting this outbreak.

In his role as Special Representative, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed will work closely with the Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, and with the governments in the region and other partners.

Briefing journalists at Headquarters today, Dr. Nabarro said that having returned from the region last week, he was inspired by the progress made in Ebola response efforts compared to September. The response differs from urban areas to rural areas, but the trend seems to be that if communities are fully involved there is likely to be a reduction in number of cases.

In eastern Sierra Leone, transmission has reduced however in the west of the country including in the capital, Freetown there is “intense transmission” and health workers are trying to get the response moving quickly. Communities everywhere are beginning to understand their own role in curbing the outbreak. Often there has to be a negotiation between responders and communities because lack of communication could lead to distress and a complete breakdown of efforts.

Dr. Nabarro said that the thousands of people working as responders are “amazing”. They put their lives on the line every day. He said was heartened that Time Magazine just named Ebola health workers “Person of the Year” but is still troubled that many of the Ebola responders have died because of their commitment to try to help others.

Regarding the private sector role, he said that “without business, recovery won’t happen,” and added that earlier today he had met with 200 business leaders to discuss how they can help in Ebola recovery and rebuilding affected economies.