I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by commending the West African Health Organization and its Director General Dr. Xavier Crespin, ECOWAS, and the other organizers for their leadership in convening us here today to address this issue of supreme urgency and importance. In particular I want to express the U.S. Government’s gratitude to His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama for his continued regional leadership as Chair of ECOWAS. I would also like to extend the U.S. Government’s profound appreciation to His Excellency President Faure Gnassingbe for taking on the challenging task of managing and coordinating ECOWAS’s response to the Ebola crisis.
Finally, I extend a welcome to the new Special Representative of the Secretary General for UNMEER Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed and his team. As you join the battle the task ahead is still monumental but headed in the right direction. We stand ready to assist as you take over the strong foundation left by your predecessor Anthony Banbury.
To paraphrase/mangle a quote from Assistant Secretary General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Bruce Aylward, “West Africa was attacked by a savage virus. West Africa reacted courageously. The region is at war and needs collective action to win.” In line with this, I want to reiterate the continued commitment of the United States to stand hand-in-hand and work collectively with our West African friends and global allies to fight the scourge of Ebola.
To date the American government and people have contributed close to $900 million in funds, resources and personnel in support of anti-Ebola efforts. While this assistance has been most visible in Liberia, we have provided substantial funding and resources across the other affected countries as well as throughout West Africa to prevent the possible spread of Ebola. From the seventeen Ebola Treatment Units that our military has constructed in the three affected countries, to the fifty USAID-funded safe burial teams operating across Sierra Leone, to 100 ambulances
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the Government of Guinea, America’s Ebola response efforts have been rapid, extensive and effective.
Perhaps most importantly, our commitment is ongoing. The United States Congress recently approved President Obama’s request for significant additional funding for the Ebola crisis. As I speak the White House is working on a plan for the utilization of these funds. Moving forward we expect these additional resources to be a key contribution to the collaborative efforts with regional and global partners to complete the dual tasks of ridding West Africa of Ebola and assisting its citizens and governments in recovering from this disaster.
The Obama administration recognized early on that an international coalition was needed. Efforts were made not just with government representatives, but also in recognizing the important role that the private and non-profit sectors play. We called upon the American private sector to step up and answer the call, and they have done so admirably. Here in Accra, I was proud of the swift action of the American Chamber of Commerce Ghana to gather its members at my home to encourage corporate social responsibility.
President Mahama recently noted that “if your neighbor’s house is on fire you have to help him to quench it. Otherwise ….., after it finishes consuming his house the fire will spread to your house.” In other words, collaboration produces wins for everybody.
I specifically emphasize collaborating because this is the only way that West Africa and the world can succeed against this dangerous disease, devastating not only to human life, but also to development. This task cannot be undertaken or achieved by a single country, the Mano River Union or ECOWAS alone; the Ebola epidemic is a global crisis that will take global solidarity to resolve.
President Obama demands integration of the United States’ response, and all parts of the American government – USAID, the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of State and others – have laid aside individual interests to form a cohesive team. We work collectively under the capable leadership and coordination of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, and together we have responded as two hands rather than ten fingers.
I cannot strongly enough counsel our partners here today – individual countries, UN agencies, regional and global organizations, NGOs and others – to do the same. Consult, cooperate, coordinate. Put aside individual and organizational concerns and agendas. Remember our common goal. Take collaborative actions and create lasting relationships and organizations that will not only support the current struggle but prepare us for the next battle and remain as a testament to the successful fight we have waged against this vicious foe.
And this brings me to the second important message I want to deliver today – the need for a long-term outlook as we focus resources and interventions moving forward. Much of the money and most efforts expended thus far to combat Ebola have been – by necessity – reactive with the intent of responding to the emergency and stopping the spread of Ebola. And while we still have a long battle ahead, successes are happening. Up until now, however, we have given limited thought to the sustainability, long term outcomes, or linkages inherent in our response.
As the light at the end of the tunnel begins to brighten, I urge all those involved to keep future benefits and impacts firmly entrenched in your priorities as you carry out your work. With crises come opportunities and the time to start “recovery” is now, during the response. If we wait, the world’s focus will undoubtedly move to other emergencies and it will be too late to develop an enduring impact.
The expected influx of resources and attention over the coming months and years provide a unique prospect to not only secure West Africa and the world against the current curse of Ebola, but to put in place a resilient human and physical infrastructure, an infrastructure that not only impacts today’s crisis but will protect against future disease outbreaks and serve the needs of the citizens of the region for an even brighter future.
In closing, I want to commend everyone in attendance on the progress made so far. I am confident that the hard work invested in this gathering will result in strengthened collaboration among all of the assembled partners as well as a better understanding of the gaps and issues that impede the durable resolution to this crisis.
Perhaps most importantly I want to recognize and praise those working in the field; selfless citizens from the affected countries, the region, the continent and from around the world. They are the true heroes of this crisis, putting their lives directly on the line for others, for us. It is because of their work that we can sit here today and envision an end to the crisis. As we toil together to battle Ebola all of us need to remind ourselves of their sacrifice and redouble our efforts.
Thank you for coming and being part of this critical effort.