U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
July 10, 2015
Today, governments and institutions from around the world are convening in New York in support of the recovery efforts in the countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. Visiting those countries last October, I met a young man from Sierra Leone who had volunteered to work in an Ebola treatment unit. When asked why he had volunteered, he said, “If we leave our brothers and sisters to die, who knows, it might be us next. It is a point of duty.”
Today we have an opportunity to reflect on the international community’s collective “point of duty” – both to bring an end to the outbreak that has taken so many lives, and to strengthen the communities and institutions that will help prevent future epidemics from reaching such deadly proportions.
During the single week I visited the affected region last October, hundreds of new cases were reported. In contrast, during the final week of June 2015, only 21 new cases were reported. That progress could never have been achieved without the valiant efforts of health professionals, burial and contact tracing teams, epidemiologists, and other front-line responders like the young man I met in Sierra Leone.
But we have not made it to zero yet. And as the detection of new cases last week in Liberia, a country where the World Health Organization had declared the Ebola outbreak over on May 9, shows – new outbreaks can occur. But the recent outbreak in Liberia also shows how a swift, transparent, and competent response by communities and governments – drawing on many of the systems and procedures put in place over the course of the Ebola response – can prevent new outbreaks from spreading. Moving from bending Ebola’s deadly curve to ending it will require a similar mix of vigilance, professionalism, and persistence.
Yet at the same time as we work to end this outbreak, we must also lay the foundations to prevent the next one. One of the most painful lessons of this outbreak – one learned at the immeasurable cost of more than 11,200 lives – is that Ebola thrives in places with fragile and under-resourced public health systems, and in particular on the poorest people who live in these places. Another lesson is that such vulnerabilities not only pose a risk to the communities where outbreaks begin, but to all of our communities – from Dallas to Dakar.
That is why it is essential for all countries to do their fair share in addressing these chronic vulnerabilities, not only today, but in the months and years ahead. In parts of the affected countries where Ebola ravaged health infrastructure and other public services, we must not only rebuild them, but build them stronger. And in those places where such support did not exist before the epidemic spread, we have to stand these institutions up for the first time. It would be a grave mistake to believe our work is finished when this outbreak ends.
The United States will continue to do its part to address both immediate and long-term needs, as we did when President Obama deployed more than 3,000 U.S. civilian and military personnel to aid in the emergency response. The pledge we have announced today brings the U.S. commitments to the Ebola response and recovery effort to over $2 billion. And beyond today’s conference, the United States will continue to find ways to support long-term recovery efforts and address chronic vulnerabilities.
It is our point of duty. And the international community’s as well.