Thank you, Ambassador Lapenn.
Let me first thank all of our convening partners for this event. And I want to thank all of the participants here today – from governments, multilateral organizations, civil society organizations, and the private sector – for the vital work you are doing on the Ebola response efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea, and toward strengthening global health security more broadly.
I would ask that each of you who has teams on the front lines of this effort to please extend my personal gratitude on behalf of the United States to the doctors, nurses, community health workers and others who are putting their lives on the line to help those affected and stop the spread of this virus. We recognize that their efforts not only help the people in Guinea and the DRC, but all of us. We are humbled by their bravery and service.
As this group understands, the enduring goal in preparing for health emergencies is to invest in the systems and tools we need to detect outbreaks and respond to them swiftly and effectively.
Our track record on this is far from perfect, as the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated.
Yet thanks to our collective efforts, we have made great strides in responding to the 2021 Ebola resurgence in Guinea and the DRC. Outbreaks were detected early, and the Guinean and Congolese governments moved swiftly to stop their spread. International and regional organizations mobilized support for the response. Guinea and the DRC communicated rapidly with neighboring countries and began coordinating their efforts. NGOs stepped up their efforts.
And it’s worth noting that all of this has been done while simultaneously responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other diseases such as yellow fever, polio and malaria.
As a result, it’s been approximately 20 days since the last Ebola case in either country. A number of people have lost their lives in these outbreaks, and we mourn their losses. But we also recognize how many lives have been saved as a result of the response to date.
This would not have been possible if it weren’t for the investments that we’ve all made in preparedness and resilience, from strengthening disease surveillance to developing effective Ebola vaccines and treatments.
And past outbreaks taught us hard lessons, which we’ve worked to address in our response to this outbreak. One is the importance of establishing a single, streamlined response structure and coordinating the range of institutions involved in the response. Another is the critical importance of engaging local communities from the outset – in their own languages and through their own leaders – because that’s the best way to get the right information out there and combat misinformation and rumors.
For example, when the 2021 outbreak started in Guinea, USAID provided $800,000 to Breakthrough ACTION – a program run by Johns Hopkins University – to support the Guinean Government’s efforts to reach communities at the grassroots level. Breakthrough ACTION developed prevention and awareness messaging in local languages, which was then disseminated on local radio stations; they trained and deployed community mobilizers, who have visited more than 1,300 households in the affected areas; and they engaged Christian and Muslim leaders, traditional practitioners, and youth leaders to disseminate accurate information.
But we can’t be complacent. All of us can and must continue to support efforts to bring the current Ebola outbreak to an end. To that end, I’m pleased to announce that today the United States has allocated up to $30 million in assistance to support the governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea in their ongoing responses, and to strengthen Ebola preparedness in nine high-risk border countries. We’re also deploying technical experts to the region to support the effort, and extending support for the work of our humanitarian partners.
We also have to invest the time and resources in shoring up our global health security. Looking beyond Ebola, every country must deepen its capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.
And we have to improve our ability to work across borders and sectors to confront these health threats – because as we’ve learned, this is an issue where our fates are bound up together. COVAX offers one example of how the international community is already doing this, by working together to expand equitable access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines. The United States has already contributed $2 billion to the effort, and we’ve recently pledged $2 billion more.
If we continue to work in this way – deepening all nations’ preparedness and resilience, supporting the countries battling outbreaks, and continuing to strengthen our global health security – we will not only stop the current Ebola outbreaks, but we will make ourselves more resilient in the face of the inevitable disease outbreaks to come. Thank you.
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