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Council Briefing on Ebola

On Thursday (13 August), the Council will meet on the global response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Ebola David Nabarro will brief. Other briefers include the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Ambassador Olof Skoog (Sweden) and AU Ambassador to the UN Téte Antonio.

Nigeria, as this month’s Council president and initiator of this meeting, circulated a concept paper (S/2015/600) on 5 August. Joy Ogwu, the permanent representative of Nigeria, explained at a 4 August press conference on the Council’s monthly programme of work that a key purpose of the meeting is to consider the role of regional and sub-regional organisations in fighting epidemics and discuss how the international community can work with such organisations to plan strategically responses to future Ebola outbreaks or other pandemics. Nigeria’s concept paper notes that resolution 2177, adopted at the height of the Ebola epidemic in September last year, called on member states “to support the affected countries in intensifying preventive and response activities … and to allot adequate capacity to prevent future outbreaks.”

Chan’s briefing is expected to include an update on ongoing reforms at the WHO, which has been criticised for its initial response to the epidemic. On 7 July, an independent panel of experts appointed to assess the WHO’s response released its final report with a number of recommendations. These include establishing a contingency fund of $100 million for future health emergencies, increasing WHO member states’ assessed contributions and welcoming a current WHO plan to develop a global health emergency workforce. A recommendation directed at the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises (which will release a report in December) proposed that it place global health issues at the centre of the global security agenda, in particular by identifying procedures for taking specific health matters to the Security Council. Council members are likely to highlight the importance of WHO reforms. Chan is also likely to cover WHO’s role in overseeing the UN system’s Ebola response, which it took over from the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) on 1 August, following the mission’s closure.

Nabarro, who was appointed UN Special Envoy to provide strategic and policy direction and galvanise support to respond to the epidemic, may highlight the recovery strategies developed by Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Mano River Union (MRU). In April, PBC Chair Skoog undertook a mission to the three countries – which are all on the PBC agenda – to assess the Ebola crisis’ impact on peacebuilding, and the possibilities for greater support for peacebuilding priorities (S/2015/282). Skoog may cover the countries’ needs and the PBC’s efforts to support them. The national and regional strategies that have been developed seek to address the epidemic’s consequences and build capacities to cope with future outbreaks, such as by strengthening health care systems and cross-border cooperation, and reviving the countries’ economies. Council members are likely to recall the recent International Ebola Recovery Conference held at the UN on 9 and 10 July. At the end of the conference, the UN announced preliminary figures of $3.4 billion in new pledges, bringing total pledged support to the recovery plans to over $5 billion of an approximate $7 billion being sought.

Antonio is likely to highlight the AU-summit held on 20 and 21 July in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, where participants appealed for states to fill the current funding gap for these national and regional recovery plans. Additionally, on the role of regional organisations, Council members are likely to commend the efforts of the AU, ECOWAS and the MRU during the crisis. Examples include the AU Peace and Security Council decision on 19 August 2014 to establish a humanitarian mission, the AU Support Mission to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA), which deployed 835 volunteer health workers during the crisis. More recently at the meeting in Malabo, African health ministers adopted the statute of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which is being created to promote the prevention and control of diseases on the continent and is mandated to deploy responders in health emergencies with cross border or regional implications. Council members are likely to highlight this as a positive regional initiative and stress its importance in responding more strategically to future epidemics.

Members are also likely to consider the current Ebola situation in the three countries. According to the WHO’s 5 August Ebola situation report, there were just two new Ebola cases – one each in Guinea and Sierra Leone – during the week of 27 July to 2 August. WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergencies Bruce Aylward said at a 4 August press conference that a number of other indicators give him confidence that Ebola cases could be brought down to ‘zero’ by the end of the year. He stressed, however, that despite the positive data, as efforts continue to end the epidemic that there would be additional flare-ups of the disease, as occurred in Liberia. Despite Liberia being declared Ebola-free on 9 May, six new cases were identified at the end of June and early July, resulting in two deaths. Recently, there have been reports of the successful development of an Ebola vaccine, which could provide an additional tool for ending the epidemic and responding to future outbreaks. Members are expected to note the enormous progress made since last August and September when Ebola cases were increasing exponentially. They will also likely urge the international community, despite this progress, to remain vigilant and to continue to support efforts to completely end the epidemic.

Last year’s 18 September open debate (S/PV.7268) on the Ebola epidemic has been credited with spurring greater global action. Resolution 2177, adopted at the meeting, was the first time that the Council determined a health crisis constituted a threat to international peace and security. During tomorrow’s meeting, members are likely to recall the international community’s failure to address the situation earlier, before it reached crisis-levels, lessons learnt from this failure and the importance of early action. A number of members may commend the Council’s role in raising the profile of the crisis, and the need for the Council to be prepared to address swiftly emerging threats to peace and security, such as disease, in the future.

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