Opening Remarks by SRSG Landgren at UN Country Team and Donor Meeting with Health Officials

31 Jul 2014

Opening Remarks by SRSG Landgren at UN Country Team and Donor Meeting with Health Officials

UNMIL and the UN Country team welcome the launch of the Government of Liberia’s strategic plan for an accelerated response to the Ebola epidemic.

The spread of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is unprecedented.  It is not under control, and continues to deteriorate, with an accelerating number of new cases and deaths.  Isolation centres are overwhelmed, and there is panic in some localities.

In Liberia, an average of almost 14 new cases a day were recorded over the past week, bringing the total number of confirmed, suspected and probable cases to over 320 in seven of the country’s 15 counties. In the past nine weeks, 155 people are recorded as having died of probable Ebola-related illness in Liberia. The situation is grave.

There are likely to be many other cases that go unreported, and unrecorded.

Last weekend marked a change in international perceptions of Ebola.  Mr Sawyer’s travel to Lagos and subsequent death due to Ebola, the death of Dr Brisbane, the Ebola-positive status of Dr Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse, and the violence against Ebola workers by a community near Foya have all created heightened attention and concern, especially among Liberia’s international partners.  Here at home, many still deny the existence of Ebola. Others fear fumigation and other preventive measures, and risky funeral practices continue.  Critical strategies right now include greater community-based prevention, and efforts to reduce the virus travelling to the counties that are as yet thought to be unaffected.

President Johnson Sirleaf has taken several measures to strengthen Liberia’s response to Ebola, including the establishment of a Task Force, which she co-chairs. On 27 July, the Task Force announced the closure of most border crossings and Ebola controls in the major open border points;  restrictions on public gatherings;  standing orders for security forces to further support the Task Force and health ministry-led technical team, and additional measures to sensitize all Liberians.

In addition to a wide-ranging strategy, this situation demands solidarity.  Ebola is a national disaster. It is time for Liberians to come together to play a part in keeping themselves, their families and communities safe.

The Government will continue to lead in response and prevention activities, and I want to pay tribute to the leadership that has been shown by the President and by the Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer.  Courageous national and international medical practitioners are at the forefront in the fight against Ebola in West Africa. In Liberia, 23 health workers, including doctors, have died after contracting Ebola.  Others are gravely ill.  The authorities are stepping up efforts to ensure health workers’ safety. They deserve further support.  Many NGO’s and other partners on the frontline of the epidemic and have stepped in with very substantial human and material resources to combat Ebola in Liberia.

To continue, the Government needs greater resources. The comprehensive accelerated response plan requires $20.9 million so that the authorities and partners can continue ramping up the response – for case management, laboratory testing, infection control and psychosocial support, as well as for massive social mobilization to educate the public and change behaviors that spread the disease. Donors have contributed $6.1 million toward the plan. Further generous funding will be important.

The UN family in Liberia, with WHO at its forefront, is committed to supporting the Government’s actions.  The Deputy SRSG and UN Resident Coordinator, Antonio Vigilante, is ensuring that the UN family supports the Government in a coordinated and efficient manner, and will brief on this in greater detail.  We are identifying ways of strengthening our support and response. I am personally engaged in securing the best possible UN support to this unpredictable situation which has placed a massive burden on Liberia and on the world’s limited capacity to respond to Ebola.

Let me say from UNMIL’s side that at the county level, UNMIL’s Field Offices have engaged with superintendents and health teams to support Ebola coordination as well as sensitization, mobilization, information sharing and response. We are working to obtain the positive involvement of traditional, religious and community leaders, including in counties still unaffected by the outbreak. The Field Offices will support the county administrations to transform these coordination mechanisms into county-level Ebola Task Force structures.

UNMIL Police and Force continue to support the first-instance security responders, the Liberia National Police, in specific violent incidents such as that near Foya on 27 July. UNMIL will be available to work with national actors on additional security measures foreseen for the LNP and the Armed Forces of Liberia. UNMIL Radio continues to provide extensive coverage and Public Service Announcements in multiple languages.

Our collective goal – the UN family, NGOs, donors and the Liberian authorities – is that Ebola is rolled back – not only in Liberia but across the region.  It is a deadly disease, but it is also a preventable one.

The response plan launched today is critical to the fight against Ebola. Liberia’s partners, including the UN, stand with Liberia in this effort.