Global efforts to fight the worsening Ebola outbreak have fallen short, Secretary General of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Elhadj As Sy reiterated to world leaders at a special session convened by the UN Secretary General on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate.
More than two dozen world leaders participated in the meeting, including United States President Barak Obama and Guinean President Alpha Condé. Presidents Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone joined by teleconference.
Having robbed the lives of more than 3,000 over the past six months alone, Ebola shows no sign of slowing. A native of West Africa himself, Mr Sy clarified the role of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to preserve respect and dignity during one of the most prominent, yet often misunderstood tasks of the organization: burials of the deceased.
“We in the Red Cross and Red Crescent have accompanied and safely buried 1,353 deceased human beings; in Guinea alone, we have carried out virtually all – 97 per cent -- of burials from Ebola deaths,” he said. “We do not ‘manage’ dead bodies. We safely, respectfully and in a dignified manner accompany our deceased fellow human beings and help to prepare them in accordance with their cultures for their last resting places.”
But this, and other roles carried out by key players like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, can only be enhanced and effective when global leaders provide solidarity and support, he relayed.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced during the session that UN medical and logistics staff are preparing to depart for West Africa as part of the first ever health related UN mission, the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER.
The session came on the heels of the UN Security Council’s first emergency meeting on a public health crisis, which resulted in a resolution calling for a coordinated scaled up response. The resolution expresses deep appreciation to the first-line responders to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including two key organizations in the Ebola response such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent. But unless resolutions like these are translated into immediate action, they will only remain words, both organisations stressed.
Since March 2014 – for the past eight months -- the Red Cross and Red Crescent boots have been on the ground to combat one of most terrifying diseases on the planet that has shattered the lives of millions. Trained staff and volunteers have been providing life-saving services to communities in West Africa, expanding Ebola preparedness and response in a total of fourteen countries.
"The Red Cross and Red Crescent has been there from the onset of the epidemic. We mobilized and trained a pool of 5,000 volunteers and sent 137 international staff to do what we initially thought would be our routine work: build a field hospital, help with contact tracing and reach out to communities with information. But, very quickly, reality caught up with us" Mr Sy said. “Our success cannot be measured by the numbers of people whom we bury. We must deliver better prevention and better care faster, measuring our success in fewer deaths and fewer people to bury.”
Red Cross workers and volunteers have carried out their work in homes and communities with deep knowledge of the local cultures, being sensitive to the importance of maintaining human dignity and fostering social cohesion in all activities.
To conclude, Mr Sy stressed the importance of engaging communities in social healing and social reconciliation. “We were there before the crisis and will remain there for as long as it takes to support communities, overcoming this humanitarian crisis, now and in the future.
Mr Sy’s full statement can be read here.
For more information about our activities on Ebola, please visit: www.ifrc.org/ebola-crisis