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National statements

Peace and Security in Africa: Ebola

Thematic issues

  • Ebola
  • Guinea
  • Humanitarian
  • Liberia
  • Peace and Security
  • Peacebuilding
  • Peacekeeping
  • Sierra Leone
  • West Africa
  • Women

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Madam President,

As we now recognise – almost too late – the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in its scale, its geographic reach, and its impact.

We've heard that the already high numbers of infections and deaths are multiplying exponentially – doubling every three weeks. Health systems in affected countries have been stretched to the point of collapse. Sick, infected people – as Jackson Niamah of Médecins Sans Frontières has just said, "begging for life" – are being turned away from overflowing treatment centres to die. This is appalling in itself, but is also worsening the spread. Health systems cannot cope with other endemic disease, or even simple treatments. We have heard again today the dire forecasts if Ebola is left to continue its alarming spread.

I welcome the United States leadership in convening today's historic emergency session –recognition of the extraordinary nature of the epidemic and only the second health-related crisis this Council has taken up [the other being HIV/AIDS in 2000 and 2011] – and the first emergency session held on such an issue. We are indebted to President Obama's announcement this week of unprecedented US efforts to help stop the epidemic.

We know that the Ebola outbreak has transformed into much more than a health crisis – with grave humanitarian, economic, and social consequences that could spread far beyond the affected countries. As always, women are disproportionately affected, accounting for as much as 70 percent of Ebola cases. Female nurses represent the majority of medical personnel killed. Ebola risks rolling back peacebuilding and development gains. Economic growth forecasts are already being slashed. And it is already having an impact on stability in a region emerging from conflict and grappling with chronic conflict risks such as high youth unemployment. It is self-evident that this crisis is a threat to international peace and security.

Today's adoption of Resolution 2177 – with its historic level of co-sponsorship, the highest ever – is a direct response to the plea for assistance from the Presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

We have much catching up to do if we are to succeed in bending down the epidemiological curve from its current, explosive trajectory. The effects of the outbreak are still reversible; but only if the response – and particularly isolation and treatment capacity – is scaled up massively, quickly. There is no time to waste.

It is absolutely vital that there is an urgent, coordinated response. Australia strongly supports the Secretary-General's efforts, through Dr. Nabarro, and working closely with Dr. Chan and the World Health Organisation (WHO), to ensure that the UN system makes an effective and coordinated contribution to the global effort to control the outbreak. We recognise this is an unprecedented challenge that requires an equally unprecedented response. Australia therefore welcomes – and supports – the Secretary-General's initiative to immediately establish the first-ever UN international public health mission [the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, UNMEER].

UN peacekeeping missions, in particular UNMIL, can also support efforts to combat the outbreak, as far as their capacities and mandates allow. We know that peacekeepers cannot be transformed into front-line healthcare workers. But as UNMIL is demonstrating, they can play a crucial role to communicate Ebola preventive measures to the public – and importantly, to dispel fear and misinformation. UN missions support the maintenance of law and order. And they also have logistical and organisational capabilities which are desperately needed.

Madam President,

The blanket border and travel restrictions being imposed across the region to contain the outbreak are having a paradoxical effect – making it more difficult to fly in medical staff and supplies, and restricting trade and transportation links. We thank Ghana for retaining the crucial UNMIL air bridge into Monrovia. We can – and indeed must – maintain open borders prudently, while at the same time heightening our vigilance to stop Ebola's spread.

Australia is committed to supporting the international response. Our Foreign Minister announced this week that Australia would immediately provide a further $7 million, including for the WHO consolidated regional response and to support the provision of frontline medical services. We have heard today that the international response must increase by twenty times if we are to get ahead of this epidemic. Australia will continue to assess areas where we can best contribute.

Let me conclude by paying tribute to the healthcare workers – 90 percent of whom are national staff – at the coal face of the response to this terrible, but beatable, disease. They are working tirelessly, at great personal risk, to save lives and reduce suffering. Many have died. All urgently need our full and unwavering support.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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