Background

The HLCM Vice-Chair introduced the topic welcoming Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Ebola. She pointed out that the Ebola outbreak had to be looked at not only from a purely medical perspective but would need to be put in a broader context, including social, economic and other aspects. She then invited Dr. Nabaro to brief HLCM on his perspective and initiatives on the matter.

Dr. Nabarro confirmed that the current situation was extremely difficult, despite the fact that the UN System had already gone through a range of preparations for future pandemics following earlier events such as SARS and swine flu. He pointed out that the decision to respond with approaches and modalities never before experienced also required immediate and close interaction of UN System staff, beyond conventional organisational borders.

Dr. Nabarro reported that, after his appointment in August, the magnitude and dynamics of the outbreak became increasingly clear.  Following his visits in the regions and further internal discussions, the Secretary General decided to launch the first UN system-wide public health Mission ever, in order to create a mechanism to provide coordination and direction but also to structure and manage the implementation of the country support. WHO and other UN system organizations would be embedded inside this Mission, and the Secretary General also appointed crisis managers at ASG level for each of the three affected countries.

Discussion

The Mission was looking to organize a fast increase in treatment, but also foster community engagement, strengthen laboratory services, ensure food availability, provide safety and organise other services. The logistical backbone would also need to be strengthened, so that these services can be effectively provided. To rapidly increase capacities, the Mission would need to establish contracts with inside and outside partners, and some agencies would become contractors with a clear set of responsibilities. This approach would model a new kind of explicit collaboration among UN agencies and external partners. The Special Envoy said that a global Ebola response coalition was about to be created with a broad range of stakeholders from governments in affected and donor countries, the private sector, civil societies, NGOs and others. The coalition would meet on 9 October for the first time. A trust fund, administered by UNDP, was also under creation. Dr. Nabarro stressed that the major prerequisite for scaling up UN presence in the affected countries was to ensure the health of staff. In order to do so, better on site health facilities for staff needed to be created in the affected countries.

The representative of the UN Secretariat / OHRM and the HR Network then briefed the audience on actions taken from an HR perspective. The HR Network had coordinated through an intense series of video-conferences throughout August, and all UN System organisations had agreed to a coordinated approach, both at Headquarter level and in the field. System-wide operational guidelines had been developed, agreed and published both for staff members and for personnel without a staff contract. The latter one was not to be seen as prescriptive but rather as a guidance note.

The representative of the UN Secretariat / OHRM furthermore highlighted that the ICSC, based on recommendations of the HR Network and of WHO, had approved danger pay on medical grounds for the first time ever, that would now be effective for all staff in the affected countries. Further discussions were currently taking place on how locally recruited staff could have access to financial assistance. As a third action item, additional measures were agreed to support staff members that wanted to transfer their families outside the duty stations, which are mostly family duty stations.

The biggest challenge remained the medical care for potentially affected staff. Both medical evacuations and medical facilities on the ground were discussed among HR Network and the Medical Directors Working Group. The UN Chief Medical Director illustrated that medical evacuations would only be a tool for a very limited number of staff in exceptional situations, given the scarcity of resources to conduct them, the limited number of treatment facilities and staff available in other countries and the operational challenges with evacuation transport of highly infectious persons. He reported that WHO had and was still having intense negotiations with a number of potential Member States on the matter. However, focus should be placed on rapidly enhancing on site medical capacities for staff members.

The HLCM Vice-Chair thanked the representative of the HR Network and the Medical Directors Working Group for their updates, and invited the representative of the Department of Field Support, to provide a briefing from his angle. He confirmed that UNMIL had been tasked to operationalize the strategy as outlined by Dr. Nabarro. The aim was to avoid duplication and to leverage the system where strengths existed in areas such as supply chain, human resources, procurement and other areas. The Mission was collaborating with external bilateral partners, NGO and others. He stressed that this was a unique effort for which no template existed. He illustrated that so far, 61 vehicles and 5 helicopters had been deployed, 141 more were waiting for clearance. Currently, headquarter facilities in all three countries were about to be established. He indicated that the 5th Committee of the General Assembly had allocated a budget of $50M and 283 posts.

In the subsequent discussions, representatives of many organisations displayed gratitude for the efforts of Dr. Nabarro and his team, and ensured their willingness to support the Mission in whatever way possible. They agreed that this was an unprecedented critical collective effort, which required a rapid upgrade of medical facilities on the ground, and to give assurance to all personnel that they are covered by adequate surge capacities in case of need.

CCISUA, on behalf of the Staff Federations, highlighted that the recent call for applications resulted in about 8,000 UN staff volunteering to support the Mission. They also highlighted that appropriate duty of care was an expectation and necessary prerequisite in the current situation.

Dr. Nabarro, in response to a number of questions received, stressed that every support from the UN System was welcomed, with a view to demonstrate flexibility and mutual support beyond current organisational boundaries. He also underlined the importance of duty of care for staff in the affected countries, and shared his hope that in a best case scenario transmission of the virus could be stopped early next year – a vaccine is currently in phase two of the clinical trials and looks promising so far. He pointed out that a lesson learned from the situation was that the lack of any operational emergency budget was preventing the system from a speedier response.

The CEB Secretary joined the participants in expressing his appreciation of the work, underlying the high expectations of the Secretary General, and pointing at the unprecedented support in the UN Security Council. The HCLM Vice-Chair noted that the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak constituted a situation of great complexity for which no template existed, and reiterated the commitment from all HLCM members to support the work of the Mission in any possible way, in particular through expediting operational and staffing matters under their purview.

Action

The Committee:

  • Took note with appreciation of the briefings provided by Dr. Nabarro, the Department of Field Support and the HR Network.
  • Confirmed the commitment to follow-up on any requests for system-wide coordination on operational matters under the Committee’s purview.
  • Recognizing the duty of care towards the personnel of the UN system as a key enabling factor in the overall UN system response in support of the countries affected by the Ebola crisis, decided that priority should be given to strengthening in-situ Ebola treatment facilities and mechanisms for UN personnel. Specifically, the HLCM decided to strengthen, on the most urgent basis, the UN clinics in all affected countries with special focus on Guinea and Sierra Leone.  The effort will leverage pre-financing facilities, the procurement capacity, UN common services frameworks and other mechanisms to make this happen without delay.