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Bill Clinton at the UN applauds Ebola success

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“As of today, I am officially Ebola free,” declared former President Bill Clinton before the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). Clinton recently visited Liberia, but he arrived three days before the country was officially declared free of the Ebola virus (May 9), and so he had to go through all the official protocols to be sure he was Ebola free before being allowed in public.

Clinton was introduced by H.E. Martin Sajdik, president of ECOSOC, as the man who “redefined the way multi-stakeholder partnerships” can impact health care goals. He said it is time to shift from an emergency response to prevent future outbreaks and improve overall health and productivity. “The message we heard from the Liberians, the same as we have heard from dozens of other countries, is to help us build the health systems, become less reliant on others and more independent. Help us build better health care,” he said.

Clinton thanked those who were on the ground during the fight against Ebola as “many put their lives at risk, and no small number lost their lives.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Infectious Diseases, also spoke at the forum. He is remembered as the doctor who cared for Nina Pham, the first nurse diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.

Fauci reminded the audience of the unnecessary panic in the U.S. after two nurses were infected with the virus. “I had said with some confidence that we would not see [an epidemic in the United States], because we had a system in place to identify, contact and trace the disease.” He said that everyone that they took care of in the U.S. did rather well, “because we had the capability of providing for them the basic medical care.”

Fauci’s experiences in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) taught them that there are basically three groups of people with Ebola. He said the first third could be saved by oral hydration. For the second third, “you need to provide fluid replacement with electrolytes. Only the final third of the people are so sick that they could experience organ system failure. Two-thirds of the problem could be solved by fundamental medical care.

“It is not an accident that Nigeria handled their Ebola case extremely well, said Fauci. “The secret was the health care infrastructure that started 15 years earlier.”

Clinton thanked the many multi-lateral organizations that played a part in the response to the Ebola crisis. He said it was a partnership with government, philanthropy and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“In Liberia there is an average of one doctor for every 71,000 people,” said Clinton. “That is like 23 doctors for all of Manhatten, and sometimes I feel like I am using all 23 doctors.” The audience laughed, but Clinton responded by saying, “you are laughing, but this is a very serious matter. Those who take health care for granted literally cannot imagine such scarce resources.

"If we do not build the necessary health systems, and repair the damage that was lost, we will be back dealing with these problems. If not these, there will be others," said Clinton.

“If we, the donor community, were to set aside 15 percent of any relief money over the next 3-7 years, you wouldn’t have to worry about this problem,” said Clinton. “If you make these investments it will save you money over the long run. This is only superficially related to Ebola. We need to increase the ability of children to attend schools, and help developing nations to become more self-sufficient.”

Susan Roylance is the international policy and social development coordinator for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.

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