Thank you very much, Deputy Secretary General, Excellencies, President Condé of Guinea and, online, President Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia, President Koroma of Sierra Leone, ladies and gentlemen.
I spoke to all three of the leaders yesterday, I spoke to friends and colleagues who just returned from the region, and I first want to thank all of the three leaders for their courage and determination in the face of this epidemic. But I just want to also give you a bit of my sense, as an infectious disease doctor, of what I see as the seriousness of this epidemic.
I have spent most of my adult life fighting very, very complicated, difficult epidemics, like drug-resistant tuberculosis in some of the poorest countries in the world. I have been involved in the treatment of HIV, again in some of the poorest countries in the world. But I have never seen anything close to the challenge that we’re facing.
The speed, complexity and the magnitude of the response that is required is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Now, I want to point out that for the first two years of my tenure at the World Bank Group, I spent a lot of it talking about the great success story of Africa. Even in the midst of the financial crisis, the African countries were growing at a rate of over five percent. Now, this was due to the extremely hard work and great leadership in the continent. But the entire global community has a huge stake in this success, because we know that debt forgiveness and investments in treatments for HIV, malaria, for example, have also contributed to the outstanding performance, and I just want to say that all of this is at risk.
If the scenarios that have been provided to us by the United States Center for Disease Control come true, and we have over a million cases, we are talking about nothing less than the potential meltdown of this continent.
Now, we have to not shirk away from a response that will be equal to the challenge. And what I mean is very specific.
I want to thank in this regard the Secretary-General, the newly formed UN mission, the World Health Organization and Margaret Chan’s leadership, the United States, the United Kingdom. I especially want to mention Médecins Sans Frontières, who have been sounding the cry for a very long time and have developed, for example, methods of preventing the spread of infection that are both creative and effective.
But here’s what we now face. We have to scale up our ground game and get effective prevention and treatment to every village, every community.
Now, just yesterday, I had lunch, sitting next to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. I congratulated him for a very effective response on one cross-border case that they experienced. But I was later to learn that this required thousands of people. This required thousands of home visits to do the contact tracing. And what I suggested to President Jonathan is that if we don’t get this under control in these three countries, that tens of thousands could cross the border. He told me that this would almost shut them down.
Let me be very clear – we can stop this epidemic. But we cannot shape our interventions based on what we think might be possible. Our interventions have to be shaped on what it will take to actually stop the epidemic.
It is going to require a massive scale up of health workers. It is going to require a massive scale up in the equipment that is available. We’re going to have to think about implementing very complex interventions in the specific cities and even villages in order to get this under control.
Let me repeat – we need to act now.
We approved, nine days ago, $105 million and we disbursed that already in nine days. And any of you who worked at the World Bank knows that that is almost a miracle.
I just went back to the Board and I asked them to nearly double our commitment, so we will now be committing $400 million to the response. And I told the Board that the potential implications of this for the entire continent of Africa are so severe that we will simply have to do whatever it takes to mount the response.
We are facing a crisis that we all have to contribute to. And the one thing that would be a mistake is to settle for a response that we are comfortable with, but that won’t stop the disease.
I thank everyone for what they’ve done to date. We will be back, and I am certain that we will be back asking for more support. But with the potential of tens of billions of dollars of losses, we know every day will count, and we count on our solidarity with these three countries. Thank you.