The Secretary-General began the session by paying tribute to Mr. Marcel Rudasingwa, the Ebola Crisis Manager for Guinea, who had suddenly passed away. Noting the complexity of the crisis, with far-reaching political, security, developmental, humanitarian and economic consequences, the Secretary-General underscored the urgent need for the best possible action by the UN system and referred to his unprecedented decision to establish UNMEER. He recognized that the robust and coordinated UN response, with community engagement, had brought improvements – for example, a slowed transmission in parts of Liberia - a testament that our strategy, where implemented fully, was the right one. However, progress was uneven, with the transmission still increasing in many places and possibly spreading to other countries. The UN system must continue to scale up its efforts.
Expressing appreciation for system-wide mobilization in support of UNMEER, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of continued unity of purpose, especially at the country level. In order to contain and end the outbreak, it was important to harmonize planning around common objectives and prioritize the deployment beyond the capitals. Also important was to act without delay to avert an emerging crisis in Mali and bolster preparedness elsewhere. In this context, the Secretary-General informed that he had requested Dr. Chan and Dr. Sidibé to travel to Mali later in the day and instructed UNMEER to deploy a team there.
The Secretary-General underscored the necessity for a holistic response, including helping the affected countries to recover and build back better. To that end, a rapid scale-up of UNMEER’s capacity was needed, especially in ensuring coherent and consistent messaging across the UN system. Referring to the Ebola crisis as one of the greatest challenges the UN system had collectively faced, the Secretary-General ended his opening remarks by urging all CEB members to reaffirm their commitment to delivering as “One UN.”
Speaking via video connection, Dr. Nabarro, Special Envoy on Ebola, outlined the rapidly changing situation, the complexity of challenges faced, and the urgency to achieve results. All these demanded massive international mobilization, as well as strong leadership and direction vis-à-vis an intricate mix of activities and multiple actors involved. Dr. Nabarro shared key factors contributing to maximizing results, including: efforts by the affected governments to improve their crisis management; activation of the Resident Coordinator system and clusters; the establishment of UNMEER and rapid mobilization of system-wide capacities; efforts to ensure coherent and harmonized communications; and the creation of a global coalition to bring parties together. Dr. Nabarro commended the exemplary efforts by the UN system, with all contributing to different facets of the overall response.
Also speaking via vide connection, Mr. Banbury, Special Representative and Head of UNMEER, provided details on devastating human and socio-economic consequences of the Ebola crisis. Despite increased financial requirements to respond to the crisis, the affected countries were experiencing reduced economic growth and decreased revenues. The impact was particularly grave at the community level, with many children made orphan or unable to attend school. Outlining significant improvements in some areas, Mr. Banbury asserted that the right strategy was in place, under the Secretary-General’s strong leadership and with the support of the UN system delivering as one.
Looking ahead, Mr. Banbury underscored the need now for a more geographically dispersed and rapid response to get ahead of the disease. Also critical was to make a smart collective decision to prioritize limited resources. Resource implications of the disease’s geographical spread – to rural areas as seen in Nigeria and to other countries such as Mali – were tremendous, and UNMEER was prepared to do its best in partnership with UN system organizations. Mr. Banbury concluded by stressing four key requirements for the UN system on the ground: more staff deployment, especially in rural areas; coordinated system-wide action across all phases; continued prioritization of the Ebola response; and initiation of early recovery planning and efforts.
Mr. Lake (UNICEF), who moderated the session, outlined its aim as the reaffirmation of the UN system’s unity of purpose and collective commitment to respond to the Ebola crisis as the One UN. He invited CEB members to consider, in particular, how best to prioritize resources, address administrative bottlenecks, and start addressing longer-term implications.
Invited to take the floor, Dr. Chan (WHO) shared lessons learned from initial delays as well as from past crises, such as the 2011 HINI outbreak where key recommendations were not implemented. The situation had gone out of control in the three worse affected countries, vulnerable post-crisis countries with weak institutional and governance capacities and public health system, where increased internal and cross-border migration and unsafe practices rooted in the cultural traditions also played a key part. Dr. Chan attributed successes in countries like Nigeria, Senegal and DRC to national ownership and leadership, community engagement to change unsafe practices, and the full implementation of public health measures. Furthermore, she expected fast-tracked innovation and technological development to contribute to preventing diseases from getting out of control in the future. Dr. Chan stressed that this time, the UN system must truly learn lessons.
Dr. Chan noted that, despite the slowing transmission rate in the three most affected countries, getting that down to zero would be challenging. This would require the UN system to update its current strategy. Where early cases were reported, such as in Mali, timely scale-up of efforts were necessary, while in countries not yet affected, the preparedness and healthcare capacities needed strengthening.
Dr. Kim (World Bank) echoed strongly the urgent need to develop a plan to get to zero at global and country levels, without which even innovative funding initiatives such as Ebola bonds would not be effective. He also underscored the importance of cash transfer programmes, which provided employment while relying on local people to fight the epidemic. To prevent endemicity, it was critically important to stop focusing on organizational reputations and territory and work under a streamlined command and control structure at the both global and country levels.
Thanking all the speakers, Mr. Lake opened the floor for interventions. CEB members expressed agreement with the analysis provided and the complexity of the challenges faced. They recognized the specific role played by each entity as part of the system-wide action, with IMF, for example, advocating for debt relief, UNDP facilitating salary payment to healthcare workers, WFP providing logistical support, etc. They underscored the importance of scaled-up efforts to get to zero quickly and shared concern with the disease’s geographical spread, with one CEB member outlining the specific challenge posed in cities, particularly in slums, and another noting, in this regard, the need to engage local governments. In terms of partnerships, one member stressed the importance of carefully engaging and coordinating with regional groups, such as the African Union and ECOWAS.
CEB members, including especially the Chair of the UN Development Group, strongly affirmed the critical importance of coordination and the UN system delivering as one, particularly at the country level. Drawing parallel with the experiences with HIV/AIDS, one CEB member underlined strategy, coordination, and reporting as essential to succeeding in getting to zero. Another CEB member expressed concern about the logistics capacity of UN operations, in view of US and UK military scale-down in Sierra Leone and the risk of airport closure in Mali.
While one CEB member recalled the need to stay focused on critical current requirements, several emphasized the importance to start planning for early recovery, for example through post-disaster needs assessments. They pointed out that such longer-term perspectives - such as food security, livelihood, education, healthcare capacity, etc - should be integrated into ongoing efforts. A few CEB members expressed concern with discrimination and stigma against survivors, particularly widows and orphans, and stressed the need for public advocacy and assistance. One member also pointed out a concern with the treatment of nationals of the affected countries travelling overseas.
In the area of management, one CEB member outlined the ongoing effort to protect the health and security of UN staff and their families. This included in-country treatment and evacuation, for which many member states had expressed support, including the US announcement to make their treatment facility available to non-responders. Another CEB member expressed concern that UN medical clinics, cost of which had so far been covered by UNDP, might become unsustainable unless a cost-sharing agreement was worked out, and urged agencies to factor in such costs as part of criticality exercise. Another problem pointed out by a member was the collapse of local healthcare infrastructure, resulting in UN staff having no access for non-Ebola-related treatments. While the capacity of UN clinics had been increased to address this, an evacuation capacity for both Ebola and non-Ebola patients were still lacking.
Summing up the discussions, Dr. Nabarro reiterated the urgent need to develop a plan to get to zero and the importance of attending to staff safety, including for non-Ebola-related issues. Mr. Lake echoed the importance of coordination and delivering as one, within the UN system as well as with partners. The Deputy Secretary-General observed, with appreciation, the manifestation of collective determination of CEB Principals and, in particular, urged them to ensure maximum attention to Mali.
The Secretary-General thanked CEB members for their strong commitment to ensuring coordinated system-wide response. With regard to Mali, the Secretary-General had, in a telephone conversation earlier in the day, assured the President of full mobilization of the UN system. In addition to dispatching Dr. Chan and Dr. Sidibé, the Secretary-General had designated the WHO Country Director as the temporary representative in Mali, pending the establishment as soon as possible of an UNMEER mission there. The President was appreciative of these efforts which he considered were in a right direction. The Secretary-General concluded the session by underlining the reaffirmed unity of purpose and collective determination, adding that at the press encounter he would convey this as the session’s key outcome.