SEPTEMBER 25 2014
Excellencies and other distinguished delegates,
My country Sierra Leone is at the battlefront of one of the biggest life and death challenges facing the global human community. A disease like Ebola could no longer be dealt with in isolation by just one isolated country in one isolated corner of the world. Viral diseases are no respecters of boundaries in a world of expanding human habitats bringing us into greater contact with mutating viruses. Ebola is not only a disease of Sierra Leone and its neighbours; it is a disease of the world. Globalization, increasing urbanization and denser networks of people rapidly moving between rural and urban areas and across borders is fuel for greater transmission of formerly isolated viral diseases.
None of us recognized that this mix of trends could emerge with such force in West Africa. Our international partners were slow to recognize the threat for what it was, and when the recognition did come, it came with a flurry of fear that led to banning of travel to and from Sierra Leone and our region.
This is the very first time Ebola got to my country Sierra Leone. We did not bring it upon ourselves. We were rebuilding our infrastructure, increasing our growth rates, enhancing our peace and strengthening our democracy. We still had a long way to go, but the world was also lauding us for doing many things right, for being a symbol of fast paced recovery from war. We were gearing up our compromised health systems to fight the known ailments of our land like malaria and typhoid when Ebola struck. Based on the advice we had from our partners, we mobilized, but the available national and international resources were grossly inadequate.
Several months down the line, the international community is finally coming around to the better view that the Ebola Outbreak is a challenge for everyone. Sierra Leone and its sister republics may be at the frontlines of this fight but we require the heavy aerial and ground support of the world to defeat a disease worse than terrorism.
As a country we have taken extra-ordinary measures, including declaring a state of Emergency, shutting down the country for three days to get over 27,000 health educators onto every household in the country, and reallocating millions of dollars from other vital services to this life and death struggle.
We salute the efforts of our partners, but containing this outbreak requires greater international support in the following areas:
More treatment centers, labs and equipment
More clinicians, nurses and other health workers in treatment and holding centers
More training for national doctors, nurses and other health workers on safe and effective clinical and nutritional interventions
Lifting of blanket bans of flights to and from our countries
Logistical support to improve response time, including Ebola customized ambulances, logistics experts, and information managers
Ebola as a disease is such that even an hour too late leads to exponential transmissions. That is why faster response, of a kind similar to responses to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes is required. This calls for faster deployment of resources at the global, national and health center level. Any break in this chain of fast response would result in more deaths in our country and greater possibilities of the virus mutating and spreading into other countries and continents. A Rapid Global Response Infrastructure must be activated and a strengthened health system in Sierra Leone must be ensured by this international response so that local capacity is boosted to hold the fort in any future outbreak. This is a fight for all of us; we must prove that humanity is equal to this new challenge to our collective existence.