Ebola Partners Forum

Publié: 29 janvier 2015

Ebola Partners Forum
Opening Remarks
Mr Elhadj As Sy
Secretary General, IFRC
28 January 2015

Welcome colleagues and friends to the IFRC and to this Ebola Partners Forum.

Today is about Ebola, and we have reasons to celebrate our successes. As we celebrate success, we remember that we have lost many people along the way. We have lost also some of our own on the way. Let us start with a minute of silence to honor the memories of those we have lost. A minute of silence please. 

Whenever we lose colleagues in the line of duty, a little part of us goes with them. But more importantly, all of them will remain with us, in the pursuit of the noble cause that joins us to them and that we have in common.  We are here today united by our shared humanity, united by our unwavering commitment to always be there on the side of communities, to accompany them, to respond to their needs.  

This is a power we have brought to the response to Ebola. There has never been a single doubt in my mind that together we would respond to Ebola and respond effectively, or that  we will contain this outbreak. The question was how fast we would do it. But there never has been any doubt in my mind that, with the power of partnership and the commitment that we have brought -- all of us here, partners together – that we can contain Ebola.

For those of us in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Ebola came to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and found us there. It found three National Societies already on the ground. It found 20,000 Red Cross volunteers who did not have to go in from outside because they were already there in the communities to which they belong. And then they started doing what they do best, respond in solidarity and with respect.

Let us understand what this is about. Let's understand how can we use the power of communities to make the appropriate choices that will help them protect themselves and, by protecting themselves, they will protect the whole world.

We have to deal with very difficult issues. If I had to design a programme sitting in Geneva, how best to do this work, I would not have thought of what we ended up doing. In the very early days when I was in Guinea and Sierra Leone, we were called upon to do what was then called "dead body management". We responded that the Red Cross doesn't “manage dead bodies”.

What we do is to care for people in a respectful and dignified manner. This is what we do  for people when they are alive, and this is what we do for people when they are deceased: we do exactly the same thing, we act respectfully: we accompany the deceased to their last places of rest, in a manner that is dignified and that is safe for those who are left behind.

When we spoke with a young volunteer in Sierra Leone and asked him “how are we able to carry out this work, what is equipping us to do that”, his response was so simple, yet so deep.  He just replied  "sir, if we don’t do it, who will?” So we did it, and we are doing it. 

If you look at statistics, the numbers and figures do not always tell the full story and can sometimes be misleading. The number of people who have died from Ebola, the epidemiological data on confirmed deaths, is approximately 8,700. Yet we have buried more than 11,000 people. People ask us, “how is that possible?”. In an environment where stigma, discrimination and fear is so high, you can imagine that we were sometimes called upon even to help conduct safe and dignified burials of people who may not have been confirmed Ebola cases. If that is helping communities, helping to transform the ways in which people grieve and mourn into a way that will help protect the living, if communities have the confidence that they can entrust us with that responsibility for the benefit of everybody, then I believe we are doing our part in accompanying those communities. So if the numbers do not match, it is not a mistake. It is just an expression of the reality that we find on the ground.

I wish to pay tribute, first of all, to the volunteers on the ground and to the leadership of the communities. They have showed us that, no matter what the challenge is that we are facing, we can do something about it. Communities, their different forms of organizations, and the government showed us in Senegal that the country could be declared Ebola-free after only one case. They showed in Nigeria and in Mali that those countries could be Ebola-free after responding to a small number of cases. They are showing progress in the three countries where we still have cases, where we see the number of cases dropping significantly and we see new hope being transmitted. We hear all of the lessons, and learning is so important. We hear the alerts that it is not over, and we agree. We agree that this is no time for complacency. But there is a need to recognize that we can do something about this crisis and the efforts which are being deployed by all the partners are making a real difference. Those partners are here today, again united by the same spirit that is motivating us to continue accompanying the people in need.

I said that we were 20,000 volunteers on the ground, and three National Societies. But it is only a very humble expression of what this Movement is about. In those very early days, when borders were closed and flights were canceled, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the globe found a way to make it to Liberia. They made it to Cote d'Ivoire, they made it to Guinea, they made it to Senegal, they made it to Nigeria. There were more than 30 of these National Societies responding very early, the way they are used to do in so many crises and disasters, with passion, commitment and solidarity.

I will name them all, because I think it's important to do so.  More than 30 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies came from five different continents.  This, for me, is the best illustration of what solidarity is about, particularly at times when it is much easier to isolate than to include, when it is easier to take what we may consider to be “protective measures” at home rather than at the epicenter of the outbreaks. More than 30 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: the Red Cross Society of the United States of America, Australia, Belgium, Benin, the United Kingdom, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Denmark, Congo Brazzaville, Finland, France, Germany, Haiti, the Hong Kong branch of the Red Cross Society of China, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Rwanda, Uganda and, most recently, all the way down south from the African continent, Botswana.

They are all there. They are all there showing solidarity, showing the world that now is the time when these countries need us most, and that is the time we should be there. 

So I’m very pleased that many of them are present here today, and through those that are present we can express our gratitude on behalf of all of the colleagues on the ground who have been appreciating very much your support. We have learned a lot together, we have suffered a lot together, we support each other and we have constructed together a base upon which we will be building to project ourselves into the future.

Ebola will leave this region. I hope this will be soon. When that day comes, we will be there: 20,000 volunteers, three National Societies on the ground. And when that day comes, we will still be there, united by the force of solidarity through all of these National Societies that I mentioned, because that is what we are about, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Let me, colleagues, welcome you all. I hope that this is going to be a day when we celebrate partnership for what we have done together. We recognize that we have travelled only part of the journey. We need to continue that journey together, to continue to always be there.

Let’s provide the space for all of us to exchange and then learn, and to see how we can apply the lessons learned into the future.

Once again, thank you so very much to all of you for coming here, and welcome to the IFRC.

Thank you.