Ebola Forum, United Nations ECOSOC Chamber – 27 August 2014
A meeting dubbed the “New York City Ebola Forum”, jointly organized by the Give Them a Hand Foundation (GTAH) and the United African Congress (UAC), was held in the United Nations ECOSOC Chamber on 27 August 2014. (See Forum programme below)
Mr. Gordon Tapper, the MC of the Forum and Founder and Chairman of GTAH, brought the meeting to order, stating that the EBOLA epidemic could not be defeated by the three most affected countries alone – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – but that it would take a concerted effort by the world community to halt the spread of the disease, to beat it back and to find a cure. He added that many countries considered themselves insulated from the disease by distance but that every city in the world was just a plane ride away from the virus.
Participating in the Forum were Ambassadors from the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the Permanent Representative of the African Union Observer Mission to the UN, the WHO, the EU, prominent individuals from the medical profession, leaders from faith-based communities and various expatriate African communities here in the United States.
Following opening prayers by the Reverend Loune Rouse, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Long Island, and by UAC President, Sidique Wai, representing the Muslim faith, UAC Chairman Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein made his welcoming statement. Dr. Nurhussein commented on the lethargy of the international community to get involved in the fight against Ebola, noting that the first incident of this current outbreak had occurred in Guinea as far back as December 2013. As the blood samples from Guinea had to be sent to France for testing, it was not until 14 March this year that the sickness was diagnosed as Ebola. In those 90 days the disease had spread to the three countries which shared common borders. Dr. Nurhussein attributed this spread to the lack of an adequate health care infrastructure, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone which had only just emerged from more than a decade of debilitating civil wars. Dr. Nurhussein added that one of his objectives was to see established an AFRICAN CDC to serve as a center for diagnosis and research and to direct the fight against any future health crises that might arise on the continent. He also wanted to see a rapid reaction health task force that could move into challenged areas without delay.
H.E. Ambassador Mamadi Toure, Guinea, acknowledged the weakness of the health infrastructure in his country and said that the traditions and culture of the people, which held that any sick person or dead body had to be cared for and handled by family members, had contributed to the spread of the disease. He urged that doctors and health care workers be trained with those cultural mores in mind.
H.E Ambassador Marjon Kamara, Liberia, commented on how the epidemic had damaged the economy of her country. She added that with the focus now on Ebola, with hospitals and clinics being overrun, and the population fearing that they may actually become infected in the hospitals, persons suffering from other diseases such as malaria, diabetes, and high blood pressure were also dying through lack of care, adding to the already heavy burden.
H.E Ambassador Vandi Minah, Sierra Leone, said that there was both a health care crisis and an economic crisis taking place in Sierra Leone. He suggested that there should be a “health-keeping mission” to his country and to the others badly affected, in the manner of UN Peace-keeping Missions.
H.E. Ambassador Tete Antonio, head of the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the UN, commented on the economic effect of the epidemic which had resulted in a 1.5 loss in GDP in the three countries.
Impassioned statements were made by many speakers, but one of the most moving was by Dr. Tomislav Prvulovich, a three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contribution to eradicating smallpox, and a veteran of the fight against the earlier Ebola outbreaks in the Congo and Uganda. Dr. Prvulovich expressed anger at how slowly the world was reacting to the Ebola epidemic dismissing it as just an African problem. He did not spare the WHO and other international organizations from criticism. He suggested that scientists should use the blood of those who have survived Ebola to create a serum to fight the disease. Dr. Prvulovich and some of his colleagues had actually injected themselves with the blood of survivors when they were in the Congo in 1976 to give themselves some kind of immunity while tending to the sick and trying to find a cure. (See video statements below)
Dr. Julius Garvey sent regrets that he was unable to attend but the key points of Dr Garvey’s message, read in his absence, were that the medical community needed to find a way to build trust with the local communities and those infected by the disease. He felt that prevention education was important and that what was needed at the moment was not necessarily more doctors and nurses but trained health workers in vast numbers. The expansion of primary care in the future was essential in the rural areas.
Dr. Dexter McKenzie, President of the Provident Medical Society, commented that a communicable threat to health anywhere would be a threat everywhere.
Reverend Loune Rouse spoke about the PIT approach he had proposed, and which was adopted by GTAH and UAC, highlighting that efforts should be directed at Prevention, Information and Training.
The leaders of the Sierra Leone community in the Tri-State area and from the Liberian and Guinean communities pledged to work collaboratively with GTAH and UAC in finding solutions for their respective countries, including collecting medical supplies, food items and funds to support local communities.
The Ambassadors closed by stating that they would like to see this spirit carried over into positive outcomes.
Mr. Gordon Tapper informed the Forum that they would be planning a major concert in the near future to be held at the United Nations to both raise awareness and mobilize the donation of resources for the stricken countries.
Ambassador Mamadi Touré – statement
Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein – statement
Dr. Tomislav Prvulovich – statement