The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday in the body’s first emergency meeting on a public health crisis, discussing the fast spreading Ebola epidemic in West Africa. During the meeting, the Council heard from one worker on the ground who warned them that if “the international community does not stand up, we will be wiped out.”
Jackson Naimah, who works for the international aid organization Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF), was invited to speak before the Council via video conference from Liberia, where the disease’s spread is among the most rampant. “With every day that passes, the epidemic spreads, destroys more lives,” he said, illustrating just how close to home the disease has hit for many Liberians. “Soon after the disease came here in Monrovia, from then on people are dying. My niece and colleague, both nurses, became infected at work. While they were treated, they died in mid-July. So many of my friends, university classmates, police, have died in recent months. Since I have a medical background, I felt I have the responsibility to help my country.”
Naimah, who is a team leader at MSF’s treatment center in Morovia, told the Council of his work in triage, examining patients prior to admission. “With patients confirmed to carry Ebola, because there is no cure, we provide supportive care to our patients in the form of food, hydration and basic treatment of symptoms,” he explained. “If treated early enough, chances of survival are much better.”
But due to the lack of beds and doctors to care for the patients as quickly as the disease is spreading, the tide is against MSF and other medical professionals operating in the region. Already, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, the disease has claimed 2,630 lives since the outbreak began, and infected at least 5,357 more. “I cannot stand aside to watch my people die,” Naimah said. “But I, along with with my colleagues, cannot fight Ebola alone.”
“We need you, you international community, help us,” he continued. “We are trying to treat as many as we can, but there are not nearly enough treatment centers and beds. We have to turn people away and they are dying at our front gate. Right now, as I speak, there are patients sitting at our front gate, literally begging for life.” He told of a young boy at the front gate, with blood clearly at his mouth, but was turned away for lack of space. Naimah lamented that that boy would likely take a cab and go on to possibly spread the virus even further.
“We need more care centers, so that everyone can find a bed and not have to stay home and infect other people,” Naimah concluded. “The future of our country is hanging in balance. My wife works at JFK hospital in Monrovia. We are educating our children. They are serving as an example to their peers. We ask you to be an example for your peers. As nations, the resources, assets, and skills required to stop this catastrophe, we do not have the capacity to respond to the crisis on our own. If the international community does not stand up, we will be wiped out.”
Watch his plea to the international community here:
In its nearly seventy year history, “only twice before has United Nations Security Council met to discuss the implications of a public health issue, then on the AIDS issue,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the body at the start of Thursday’s meeting. “Then, as now, it was timely and clearly warranted.” Ban was one of several high-level U.N. officials to tell the Council of the growing threat that the Ebola crisis has mutated to become. In response, Ban said, the U.N. was launching the U.N. Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER) to better allow for coordination of the U.N. and World Health Organization’s resources.
Ban’s special coordinator for the Ebola crisis, David Nabarro, told the Council that the virus was spreading exponentially, doubling over a set time. “Most believe that the doubling speed is about every three weeks,” Nabarro said. “That means that this outbreak has doubled since I was appointed.” The response to Ebola has been increasing, he continued, but the “level of response needs to be twenty times greater than what it is right now.” World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan likewise warned that the Ebola outbreak was the “greatest peacetime challenge that the [United Nations] has ever faced.”
Following the statements from Naimah and the U.N. officials present, the Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the world to strengthen its response to the crisis. In all, a total of 131 countries signed on to co-sponsor the draft, the most in U.N. which among other provisions called on states in the region to lift the travel bans that health professionals say are hampering the efforts to treat victims of the virus effectively.
The United States on Tuesday announced that it would be greatly ramping up its own response to the crisis, pledging more than $700 million worth of aid and assistance. President Obama also announced that he was sending more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel to the region to aid in setting up more health centers and facilitate logistical support. “The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said in announcing the initiative. “But right now, the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives. Right now, the world has the responsibility to act — to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more.”
An earlier version of this post misspelled Jackson Naimah’s name incorrectly. This has since been corrected.