Remarks on the U.S. Response to Ebola for Members of the Diplomatic Corps

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
October 17, 2014

Thank you, Nancy. Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for being here, and thank you, Ambassador Powell, for all you’re doing to lead on this effort.

I know that there’s no shortage of demands on all of your time, so we really do appreciate and I know President Obama appreciates your coming in here this morning for this very important briefing. And I’m particularly grateful to Nancy Powell, who’s leading our efforts against Ebola at the State Department, and you’ll hear from her and from others who are on the front lines of our efforts to respond to this challenge. We thought it was critically important to bring everybody here together so you could hear from the experts and really get a chance to understand and report back to your governments about our efforts and where we’re heading.

We are very privileged in Washington, in the United States, to have here one of the most distinguished diplomatic corps that is posted anywhere in the world. Few cities are home to so many ambassadors with so much experience, which is why you come here, and so much global expertise and influence, frankly. So that’s why coming together here this morning really does represent a special opportunity to deal with this moment. Meeting this crisis is going to require that we draw on each other’s collective experience and our collective capacities. No one country, no individual group of nations is going to resolve this problem by themselves. This is going to take a collective, global response – all hands on deck. That’s the only way to get it done. And we believe that coming together here this morning can be an important beginning in really creating the kind of global response necessary.

Now I know you don’t need me to tell you what we’re up against, and I’m sure you’ve heard it from your own capitals, and every time you turn on the television or the radio, you hear or see gripping scenes that tell us in real terms about this challenge. There’s no way to describe the scenes from West Africa other than just heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching. And the images of a pregnant woman being turned away from a hospital on the – and she’s on the verge of collapse, or of men and women dying on the streets, their children orphaned, and a lot of hopeful nations working to plant the seeds of prosperity and open societies now suddenly battling a brutal epidemic.

So it’s not just the suffering that we see or the potential risks that we face that make this a different kind of crisis for us as diplomats. We live in a world of a lot of close calls, tough decisions on a daily basis, difficult and contentious issues where you can have an honest disagreement about what the best course of action is or about what the facts are or the results of your decision may be.

Ebola is not one of them. It should not be contentious with respect to the facts or what is needed or how we proceed. We know the risks. We know the science. We know the medical certainties. We know what is required to beat back this epidemic. And right now, we know that this is a time for nothing less than brutal honesty with each other about what we need, in both the capabilities that we need in order to meet this crisis and the real ways on the ground and the kinds of cash contributions – yes, cash contributions – that we need to fund these efforts for the months to come. And the fact is we haven’t begun yet to fully meet the challenge at hand.

So there are specific needs that we can meet right now. We need 200 flatbed trucks and 350 of so-called soft-skinned vehicles for transport of aid and resources. We need more helicopters and capable crews who can get to work right away. We need more mobile laboratories, treatment centers and beds. We need more incinerators and more generators. Most of all, we need more of the courageous healthcare workers that we see making an incredible contribution right now on the ground, and we need to do everything that we can to provide these men and women the protective equipment and the treatment that they need.

Now, we know this – the things that we can do and that we need to do. We know even in the cases of Texas, for instance, know that protocols are perhaps not followed in some instance or another. So there are ways, because we have plenty of people working who are treating people who are not getting it, and plenty of people who have been surrounding and around it who don’t get it. So the fact is that you have to come in contact. And as long as you can make certain that that is not happening during those critical periods of incubation, there are ways to contain this.

As President Obama has said repeatedly, we approach this with humility and we approach this with a huge sense of purpose, but we know that no matter what we do, we’re not going to be able to do it alone. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve contributed $258 million most recently and we’re also delivering support in some very unique ways that only the U.S. military can provide, and that’s why we’re sending as many as 4,000 troops to the region. And that’s why we’re allocating up to one billion more for our armed forces for this purpose. And that’s why we’re creating 17 Ebola treatment units and providing support right now for the mobile laboratories and the communications infrastructure.

We are using every instrument of American power in order to try to get this job done, and as many of you know, I’ve been making a number of phone calls each day to my counterparts from your countries in order to encourage concrete steps. And we’ve been raising this issue in every single bilateral meeting that I have, but we know that nothing that one, two, three countries do together is going to solve it. We have to all be engaged in this. There is no country that is exempt from being able to do something to be able to contribute to this effort and help make a difference. And everything we do depends on how we coordinate our efforts as partners in how we contribute together.

Now already we are seeing nations large and small stepping up in impressive ways to make a contribution on the frontlines. Timor-Leste has donated $2 million. Cuba, a country of just 11 million people has sent 165 health professionals, and it plans to send nearly 300 more. We want to thank France for committing 70 million euro and for those response in Guinea, where they’ve taken on special responsibilities. And we want to thank the United Kingdom for the Ebola treatment units that they are building in Sierra Leone, and Germany has significantly stepped up its efforts, including offering their facilities to treat healthcare workers. The European Union is organizing medevac capacity and contributing 140 million euro, and the World Bank and IMF have committed more than $678 million. The African Union is moving to send trained emergency responders to West Africa.

But no matter what we have already committed, it is clear, every one of us, that we have to do more, and we have to do it quickly. So of the one billion in needs that are estimated by the UN, I regret to say we are barely a third of the way there. If we don’t adequately address this current outbreak now, then Ebola has the potential to become a scourge like HIV or polio, that we will end up fighting, all of us, for decades. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Winning this fight is going to be costly, it is going to take all of our efforts, and it is not risk-free. Nobody knows that better than the healthcare workers on the front lines right now. And whatever the differences there are between us in this room on one issue or another, on one attitude or another, the fact is everyone I know respects and admires the courage of any healthcare worker who is undertaking this challenge.

So let’s make sure that those healthcare workers aren’t hanging out there by themselves. Let’s make sure that we’re pulling together the resources, the equipment, the commitment, the cash to support their efforts. And let’s make sure that their courage is motivating us every step of the way. For these men and women to succeed, they need nothing less than our full commitment, which is why we’ve asked you to come forward here today. This is a matter of real people, real lives, in countries that were beginning to take off, countries that were beginning to see the future and feel it, and suddenly they’ve been hit by this. This engages all of us, and it is a real test of global citizenship. So today in this room, we have a unique opportunity to try to come together to make important contributions. I’ve touched on some of the urgent needs. There is nobody, frankly, who can more competently explain where we stand, who knows what is at stake better than Ambassador Nancy Powell.

A lot of you know her very, very well because she has served alongside you. She’s one of the very few five-time ambassadors at the State Department. And partly because of what she has already done once before to spread – to help prevent the spread of a pandemic, which she did – she’s already one of the most accomplished people to have to deal with this challenge and one of the best diplomats we could think of in order to help us all do what we need to do. So ladies and gentlemen, Nancy Powell. (Applause.)