Speeches & Transcripts

Statement by Keith Hansen, Vice President for Global Practices, World Bank Group High Level International Conference on Ebola

March 3, 2015

Keith Hansen High Level International Conference on Ebola Brussels, Belgium

As Prepared for Delivery

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to affirm the unwavering commitment by the World Bank Group to help Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone end the Ebola epidemic and rebound from this crisis.

The World Bank Group has made a major contribution to the global Ebola response, working closely with the governments in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and with our bilateral and multilateral development partners, civil society, and the private sector. 

To date, the World Bank Group has mobilized more than US $1 billion for the affected countries to combat Ebola and its impacts.  This includes US $518 million in unprecedented emergency response funding from IDA, the WBG’s fund for the poorest countries, which is mostly all in the form of grants, and has been supporting the affected countries and UN agencies to provide Ebola treatment and care, contain and prevent the spread of infections, deploy domestic and foreign health workers, conduct safe burials, deliver food and essential supplies, step up contact tracing, and deliver other basic health services.

We have also committed at least US $450 million from our private sector arm, IFC, in commercial financing to promote trade, investment and employment, ensure continued operations of business and supplies of essential goods and services and help some 800 small and medium enterprises. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a critical moment in the Ebola crisis. 

On one hand, we welcome the substantial progress that has been made in slowing the epidemic as a result of the global and government-led response efforts.

On the other hand, the response was far too slow to mobilize.  We continue to see a substantial number of new Ebola cases each week. And it is particularly troubling that a majority of the new cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone still arise from unknown chains of transmission.

One case of Ebola is too many.  This deadly virus has a history of resurgence, so we must remain vigilant even where things look promising. Until we reach and sustain zero Ebola cases and zero transmissions, the health of the citizens and the economies in the three countries, the region, and beyond remain at risk.

In the three most-affected countries, this epidemic has had a devastating impact on lives, livelihoods, and the overall economy, wiping out many recent development gains.  Our most recent estimates are that these 3 countries will lose at least US$1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2015 as a result of the epidemic.  We also have estimated that the broader economic cost to the region could rise as high as $6 billion. 

This is why even as we continue to focus intensely on the immediate response to get to zero cases, we are working with the affected governments to plan for, and expedite, recovery.

But to truly recover and rebound in a sustainable way, the world must learn the lessons from the Ebola crisis. Let me highlight a few:

First, we must ensure that every country has a robust and resilient health system.  This means a system that is well-led, well-financed, and well-equipped to deliver access to quality essential health care and preventive services to all citizens, even in the remotest areas; that has effective disease surveillance and diagnostic capabilities in place; with a smart information and telecommunications infrastructure, and the coordination and capacity to rapidly identify, treat, and contain future outbreaks with a whole of government response.  These are some of the functions Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali deployed to contain the spread of the epidemic and become Ebola-free.

The Ebola crisis also has made clear the significant economic downsides of failing to invest adequately in the health sector. 

Second, informed citizens and empowered communities are the most effective front line of preparedness and response.  We know, for example, that a major driver of the epidemic was unsafe burials. Top-down instructions from public health authorities regarding safe burials – which required abandoning traditional rituals – were met with suspicion and even outrage by aggrieved family members and communities.  It was not until communities and traditional and faith leaders were engaged in leading the messaging and response that the situation began to turn around.

Going forward, Ebola-related investments that have been made in community health workers and community mobilization can be deployed to reinforce behavior change and strengthen the overall health system.

Third, the Ebola crisis exposed the fragility of these countries beyond the health sector – and how a health crisis can become a development crisis, for example in agriculture and education.

That’s why we last month announced that the Bank Group is providing US $15 million in financing to deliver a record 10,500 tons of maize and rice seeds to more than 200,000 farmers in the 3 countries in time for the April planting season.  This support will help revive the agricultural sector and to avert hunger for more than 1 million people at risk in the three countries. 

And today I am also pleased to announce that the Bank Group will provide at least US$12 million to get children across the three countries back into school and learning.  Students in more than 18,000 schools will benefit from efforts to clean and sanitize their schools, build or repair hand washing stations and water points in schools, provide new textbooks and refresher training for teachers.

The Bank’s Ebola Recovery and Reconstruction Trust Fund is enabling these and other activities to jumpstart recovery such as providing cash transfers and counseling to families, repairing roads, and helping people get back to work.

Fourth, this crisis showed that the global health system is ill-equipped both in terms of outbreak preparedness and response.  It took months before the international response swung into action, and even longer before containment efforts began to take hold. We must strengthen the global health architecture to enable all actors – public and private - to play their respective roles effectively.  Resources should begin to flow in 8 hours, not 8 months.  A speedy response can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

At the request of G20 leaders, the World Bank Group is now working to develop a global pandemic emergency facility, with new finance mechanisms so when the next global health emergency is declared, the world can quickly deploy the money, trained health workers, equipment, medicines and whatever else is required.  We are now in discussions with potential donors, private investors, the insurance industry and other development partners on the design of this proposed facility.

The fifth lesson – perhaps most important of all for this discussion – is the importance of country leadership and political will. While the global response has played a key role in turning the tide on this epidemic, the strong government-led coordination efforts in each country have paved the way.

Today is an important step on the road to recovery.  As international partners, our role is support the countries in realizing their own visions to build back better – to move from food subsistence to food surplus; from disease spread to disease prevention; from unemployment to opportunity.      

But we must maintain the momentum.  So today I am pleased to announce that at our Spring Meetings in Washington in mid-April, the World Bank Group will host a next high-level international meeting to follow up on today’s actions and outcomes, provide an opportunity for the countries to present their more developed plans, and accelerate the recovery process. 

In closing, our support will remain steadfast – to ensure that the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are able not only to recover, but ultimately to rebound and become stronger and more resilient than before.   

Thank you.