Council Debate on Ebola
This afternoon (21 November), the Security Council will hold a debate on Ebola chaired by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) Anthony Banbury, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Ebola David Nabarro and the Head of the French Red Cross in Guinea, Thomas Mauget will brief (Banbury and Mauget will brief via video tele-conference). Representatives of affected countries, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone, may also address the Council. The Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement, a draft of which was circulated by the US to Council members yesterday afternoon for comments, and put under a short silence procedure around noon.
Today’s meeting follows last week’s briefing (13 November) by Banbury and Nabarro to the General Assembly in which they described evolving characteristics of the epidemic and progress in scaling up the international response. Banbury stressed that critical needs remain in response efforts, including for more dispersed and smaller Ebola care centres, and more health care workers, mobility assets and money. Today’s meeting is an opportunity for Council members to recognise progress in the mobilisation to address the epidemic, while highlighting the need for the international community to sustain efforts and to avoid complacency.
Council members are likely to be interested in more details about the improving situation in Liberia which has been the worst hit by Ebola, with a total of 7,069 reported cases and 2,964 deaths according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released on 19 November. According to the WHO, the number of reported new cases in Liberia declined between mid-September and mid-October and have since stabilised. To a great extent, the improvement appears to be the result of changes in behaviour within Liberian communities to prevent the spread of the disease. Members will likely stress the need for vigilance in spite of the declining number of reported cases. The epidemic was reported to have lulled twice in Guinea, only for the situation to deteriorate again. Members may also want more information about reported increases in Ebola cases in some of Liberia’s more rural districts.
The representatives from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are expected to give an update on the situations in their countries. In Guinea, according to the WHO’s 19 November situation report, transmission has been stable, On the other hand, the epidemic has deteriorated in Sierra Leone. According to the WHO report, from 10 to 16 November, there were 533 new reported cases. This compares to 74 and 80 cases over a similar period in Guinea and Liberia respectively. A total of 15,113 confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola cases and 5,406 deaths have been reported through mid-November by the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Ebola situation in Mali is likely to be on Council members’ minds. Today, the WHO confirmed that Mali has had a total of six Ebola cases and six deaths. 327 people are currently being monitored, including 23 UN peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) who were at a clinic, which had unknowingly treated a Guinean national linked to five of the cases.
Banbury was in Mali on 19 November, where he met Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and the Minister of Health and Public Hygiene, Ousmane Koné. Members will be particularly interested in UNMEER’s efforts to assist Mali. In this regard, members may also highlight the need for UNMEER to assist in the preparedness of other neighbouring countries in the region. Ebola outbreaks in Senegal and Nigeria were declared over on 17 and 19 October, respectively.
Members will likely stress the importance of ensuring that the response continues to adapt to the evolving epidemic. They may also highlight the broader impact of the crisis on the economies, food security and broader health care capacities of the affected countries. Some speakers may also emphasise the continued importance of a coordinated international response and some may raise concerns about reported difficulties with coordination between UNMEER, UN agencies and international partners and the affected states.
The Peacebuilding Commission’s activities in support of affected countries may also be covered by some speakers. A 3 November joint meeting of the Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone country-specific configurations focused on the epidemic’s impact on state institutions and political stability.
The draft presidential statement to be adopted today is similar in substance to the Council press statement adopted on 15 October (SC/11602), with differences primarily reflecting changes on the ground since mid-October. Following its circulation yesterday, members submitted comments which led to minor amendments to the original text. The draft presidential statement reiterates the Council’s grave concern over the epidemic, which it says constitutes a threat to international peace and security. However, one significant difference is that while the October Council press statement stressed that the international community response to date had failed to address the magnitude of the crisis, the draft presidential statement notes the considerable efforts of the international community to scale-up its coordinated response.
The draft presidential statement also expresses concern over the recent Ebola infections in Mali. With regard to UNMEER it stresses the importance of the mission continuing to strengthen coordination with the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as international actors while requesting UNMEER to accelerate scaling-up its presence outside of the three countries’ capital cities.
It also welcomes the efforts of UNMEER to oversee the operational work of the UN system and underscores the need for other UN entities to work with UNMEER to provide assistance to the governments of the most affected countries. The draft also highlights the need for the international community to expedite the provision of resources and financial assistance.