UN: UN officials urge more vigilance in Ebola fight as West Africa marks progress

New York, US (PANA) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said it is almost one year since Ebola began spreading in West Africa, ravaging villages and local economies.

Now, following dramatic improvements in the three most affected countries - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - the UN can now report progress in the fight against the deadly virus.

Ban, however, urged the global community to help the region regain its footing following the unprecedented outbreak.

Delivering remarks to an informal UN General Assembly meeting on Ebola in New York, the UN chief said his recent trip to West Africa had convinced him that defeating the outbreak was "ultimately possible, but that the challenge remains in prevailing quickly and in minimizing overall suffering".

This, he said, would demand collective determination and clarity of focus by all international actors and national stakeholders.

"Strong national leadership with local community engagement and international support is slowing the incidence of new cases in many places. Through all our efforts, we have learned that our response must be regional in nature to avoid a risk of re-transmission," he stated.

"However, despite peaking optimism and massive support from the international community, I also urged caution," Ban said, noting that, "Ebola remains a versatile and fearsome adversary, pockets of the disease, in fact, are alive in certain parts of West Africa with the western part of Sierra Leone still suffering from high incidences of transmission."

He stated: "The outbreak has taught us that there is no room for complacency, and resources will continue to be required to adjust the response, monitor chains of transmission and end the outbreak."

The UN chief warned that his Trust Fund dedicated to Ebola response efforts had been "depleted to fund priority gaps" and he called on UN member states "to sustain the tremendous momentum achieved so far in fighting the epidemic".

At the same time, he noted, post-Ebola recovery efforts would also have to be considered in an effort to help revive those communities debilitated by the disease, saying: "The virus has eaten away at the fabric of society, at how people live, how they love, how they die and care for loved ones in their final days."

"We must, collectively, take stock of how we can build longer-term resilience to withstand future outbreaks," Ban added.

Also, UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa lauded the Ebola response for having made "significant improvements" in reducing the spread of the disease through case identification and contact tracing, isolation and treatment, as well as safe burials and social mobilization.

But, he warned, that, the rippling after effects of the outbreak were not yet over.

"As we shift from the immediacy of the initial outbreak, we must now direct our attention to the region’s long-term recovery effort," Mr. Kutesa explained.

Throughout West Africa, he said, markets for essential goods struggled to remain open, children were missing critical school time, and "critical" planting cycles have been missed, stressing that, "the impact of Ebola is being felt all the way down to the village level".

From Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in his first briefing to the General Assembly, said that in the few weeks he had headed UNMEER, he had travelled to all the affected countries and met with their respective presidents, as well as UN global response partners and religious leaders, Ebola survivors and care workers.

"Over UNMEER’s first 90 days in existence, significant progress has been made in slowing and containing the world’s largest-ever Ebola outbreak. Only three months ago, the epidemic was ravaging West Africa, with 4,000 people infected in October alone, and caseloads were doubling every three weeks," the UN envoy said.

He commended the global response, which, he said, had slowed down the spread of the epidemic.

"We are now beginning to see an overall decline in the number of new cases," he said, echoing the UN secretary-general’s feeling that the goal of ending Ebola in Liberia was within reach.

"At the same time, the government is aware that it must not give in to complacency. While western areas of Sierra Leone were still seeing new cases, thanks to the response plan enacted by the government, the virus was slowing its spread.

Mr. Ahmed said that a large part of the progress to date was due to the actions of the affected communities themselves. Indeed, the affected communities had changed their behaviours and adjusted traditional practices that increased the likelihood of virus transmission, such as the washing of bodies of the deceased pre-burial.

"The concerted efforts of the international community, the United Nations and its partners have also made a crucial contribution," the envoy said.

"Donors have provided nearly US$2.2 billion in humanitarian assistance and many countries
have provided medical teams and logistical capacities to support the response," he added.

He thanked, particularly the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as the many national and international non-governmental organizations working on the front lines to tackle the virus.

"However, stopping this outbreak will still require significant efforts," he said, declaring that the philosophy that would guide his work from here on would be what he termed his "three c’s" approach: recognizing the leadership of the countries affected, engaging communities and coordinating effectively.

According to the latest data from the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the three hardest
hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - have all reported their lowest weekly total
of new cases in months.

Guinea reported its lowest weekly total of new cases since 17 of August 2014. Liberia has
had no confirmed cases nationally for the final two days of the week ending the 11th of
January 2015, and Sierra Leone has recorded its lowest total of new cases since 31 August
-0- PANA AA/MA 20Jan2015

20 january 2015 23:00:23

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