Monthly Archives: September 2015

Speeches: The U.S. Government and the Global Goals Global Poverty Project and Better World Campaign

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Peter [Yeo]. It’s a pleasure to be here this evening, and I’d like to extend that appreciation to those in attendance, many of whom followed the development of a the new Global Goals very closely and offered ideas, advocacy, and support.

Many thanks to the UN Foundation and the Better World Campaign, to you and Mike Beard, and to the Global Poverty Project and Judith Rowland for their work in raising awareness and co-hosting this reception.

To my colleagues in the US government, for their tireless leadership and engagement.

And to members of Congress and staff who are supporting and amplifying the global goals and what they mean for the international community. Especially to Senators Corker and Cardin for being here tonight and for their leadership on development issues – US leadership in this area is truly a bipartisan effort.

Also a special thanks to my wife, Terry Seery, and my children, Emmet and Frances, who are here today, and have provided so much love and support as I’ve spent much of the past year away from home, in New York City, negotiating with other countries.

I am especially glad that my children are here to hear about the goals the world is setting for itself and the role that the US has played in shaping this agenda. This is a 15-year agenda, so these are their goals: a commitment to future generations, and one that will need their participation and leadership.

Yes, these are global goals, but I want them to understand that they are also goals that reflect core American values and priorities: ending poverty and want, protecting basic human rights, and securing freedom for all.

And that is by design: we played a very active role in these negotiations to shape its outcome. The reason is simple – as President Obama said on Sunday during the adoption of the goals, “development works.” As a core pillar of US foreign policy, we recognize that our investments in sustainable development around the world are investments in our own prosperity and security.

As Senator Cardin mentioned, the world achieved significant progress during the time of the MDGs: more than 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty; more than 50 percent reduction in preventable child deaths; the same number of girls as boys now attending primary school worldwide.

No one presumes the MDGs were the sole cause of this progress, but our experience with the MDGs has demonstrated the power of global goal-setting. It’s clear they helped governments, NGOs, private sector, and other stakeholders get on the same page; that they drove data collection, analysis, and standardized monitoring, making it easier for the world to collectively follow its progress; and served as the basis for mobilizing action and innovative partnerships like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and GAVI, the vaccine alliance.

Take, for example, the Child Survival Call to Action. By 2012, we recognized the world was not making sufficient progress on meeting MDG 4, to reduce the deaths of children around the world in their first 5 years of life. So we came together to draft an action plan – the Child Survival Call to Action, spearheaded by India, Ethiopia, the United States and UNICEF, eventually joined by 173 other countries and 400 organizations. The US doubled down on its investments in 24 countries, and six of those priority countries have now achieved MDG 4 – an extraordinary turnaround. It is estimated that some 500,000 children’s lives were saved in the following two years.

The new global goals go further than the MDGs – we now seek to end extreme poverty, end chronic hunger, end preventable child and maternal deaths. Achieve an HIV/AIDs free generation. Focus on the quality of education, not just access.

The US will continue to lead the way through investments in these areas. On Sunday the President announced ambitious new targets for PEPFAR to provide HIV/ADIS treatment to a total of 11.4 million people by the end of 2016 and 12.9 people by end of 2017.

The results continue to be impressive from Feed the Future’s efforts to help countries develop their agriculture sectors and break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. In 2014, farmers across the world supported by Feed the Future experienced more than half billion dollars in new sales, representing a 200 percent increase over the previous year. Kenya has experienced a more than 25 percent reduction in childhood stunting between 2009-2014; Ghana, 33 percent.

And just last week USAID released a vision for ending extreme poverty that frames the Agency’s role in this worldwide effort and focuses on the critical role of economic growth and good governance in contributing to the moral center of the global goals – it is the very first target, number 1.1 – and one to which President Obama has committed US leadership in his last three State of the Union addresses and in the 2015 National Security Strategy.

The SDGs are not just MDG 2.0, however. They take the focus of the MDGs on human development and add economic and environmental dimensions. While the MDGs were the cornerstones, the SDGs represent a comprehensive foundation for development. Key development priorities like sustainable energy – which fits with our focus on ending energy poverty through Power Africa; climate change and environmental sustainability; and inclusive economic growth are now part of the agenda. Among other things, the SDGs also prioritize gender equality and incorporate the critical importance of good governance, justice, and peace and security to successful development.

While this takes us to 17 goals (where the MDGs had eight), the addition of all these areas is a significant step forward. For example: As the President said on Sunday, we know that truly sustainable development depends on governments and institutions that care about their people, are accountable, and that deliver justice for everyone.

And of the seven countries unlikely to meet a single MDG by the end of 2015, all have been affected by high levels of violence and instability in recent years. The SDGs are launching when 60 million men, women, and children have been forced from their homes, many from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.

This is why for the US, the addition of Goal 16 was such a priority: it compels us to make and measure progress on peace, justice, and good governance, and to acknowledge its critical importance to development. And based on his comments tonight, we look forward to the partnership of Senator Cardin and indeed the entire Senate Foreign Relations Committee in watching our progress carefully on goal 16.

By the way, this is also why now, more than ever, USAID needs strong, bold leadership, an Administrator who can continue to improve the Agency’s ability to provide effective, efficient and innovative assistance that saves lives and promotes global stability.

We also know that greater gender equality means better outcomes for everyone: removing barriers that inhibit women’s ability to fully participate in the economy, and closing the global gender gap in workforce participation, can boost GDP worldwide by up to 12 percent by 2030. And we recognize that moving forward also requires addressing the impact of climate change, from which the world’s poorest people will bear the heaviest burden, and that environmental conservation is a critical component of sustainable development.

This is a set of goals that every country, regardless of level of development, is voluntarily endorsing. All the member states in the UN had a hand in developing these goals over a period of three years, and not just them – also experts and academics, civil society, businesses, and other stakeholders. The Secretary General has called this goal-setting the most inclusive process in history.

This focus on universality and inclusivity moves us beyond aid, beyond a traditional donor/recipient dichotomy, to a framework of shared responsibility and collective action. It provides a strong expectation of country leadership, of countries owning their own social and economic development. And it makes clear that this chapter of development cannot just be about what governments spend, but has to harness the connectivity and resources of businesses, philanthropies, NGOs, faith communities, citizens.

It is an approach reflected in the consensus we reached at the Third Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July. One that provides the impetus for the efforts like the Addis Tax Initiative that was launched there, where we are joining with over 30 countries (and growing) in a multi-stakeholder partnership to catalyze significant increases in domestic revenue, so countries can increase their own resources to invest responsibly in public services and other development needs. One that also reflects our focus on the importance of innovation, science and technology, and the power of data to accelerate our progress. This is truly a modern approach, one that now serves as the roadmap for the global community to follow.

As someone who negotiated this outcome, I know only too well its foibles, and I recognize its imperfections. But the global commitment it represents, a political consensus among 193 member states to end extreme poverty in this generation while seeking to live sustainably and in peace – this reaffirms the hope inherent in the founding of the United Nations 70 years ago, and it provides a politically optimistic moment and opportunity in the midst of all else happening in the world. It’s one where we should take full advantage; now that we have this consensus, it’s time to get to work and implement it and make it real. We look forward to working with all of you to push forward with US global leadership to do just that.

Thank you – and onward to 2030.

Executive Order — Continuance or Reestablishment of Certain Federal Advisory Committees

EXECUTIVE ORDER

– – – – – – –

CONTINUANCE OR REESTABLISHMENT OF

CERTAIN FEDERAL ADVISORY COMMITTEES

By the authority vested in me as President, by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and consistent with the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended (5 U.S.C. App.), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Each advisory committee listed below is continued or, to the extent necessary, reestablished until September 30, 2017.

  1. Committee for the Preservation of the White House; Executive Order 11145, as amended (Department of the Interior).
  2. President’s Commission on White House Fellowships; Executive Order 11183, as amended (Office of Personnel Management).
  3. President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science; Executive Order 11287, as amended (National Science Foundation).
  4. Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health; Executive Order 11612, as amended (Department of Labor).
  5. President’s Export Council; Executive Order 12131, as amended (Department of Commerce).
  6. President’s Committee on the International Labor Organization; Executive Order 12216, as amended (Department of Labor).
  7. President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; Executive Order 12367, as amended (National Endowment for the Arts).
  8. President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee; Executive Order 12382, as amended (Department of Homeland Security).
  9. National Industrial Security Program Policy Advisory Committee; Executive Order 12829, as amended (National Archives and Records Administration).
  10. Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee; Executive Order 12905 (Office of the United States Trade Representative).
  11. Governmental Advisory Committee to the United States Representative to the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation; Executive Order 12915 (Environmental Protection Agency).
  12. National Advisory Committee to the United States Representative to the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation; Executive Order 12915 (Environmental Protection Agency).
  13. Good Neighbor Environmental Board; Executive Order 12916 (Environmental Protection Agency).
  14. Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS; Executive Order 12963, as amended (Department of Health and Human Services).
  15. President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities; Executive Order 12994, as amended (Department of Health and Human Services).
  16. Invasive Species Advisory Committee; Executive Order 13112, as amended (Department of the Interior).
  17. Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee; Executive Order 13158 (Department of Commerce).
  18. Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health; Executive Order 13179 (Department of Health and Human Services).
  19. National Infrastructure Advisory Council; Executive Order 13231, as amended (Department of Homeland Security). 
  20. President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition; Executive Order 13265, as amended (Department of Health and Human Services).
  21. President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Executive Order 13498 (Department of Health and Human Services).
  22. President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; Executive Order 13515, as amended (Department of Education).
  23. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues; Executive Order 13521 (Department of Health and Human Services).
  24. National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations; Executive Order 13522 (Office of Personnel Management).
  25. U.S. General Services Administration Labor-Management Relations Council; Executive Order 13522 (General Services Administration).
  26. President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Executive Order 13532, as amended (Department of Education). 

(aa) President’s Management Advisory Board; Executive Order 13538, as amended (General Services Administration).

(bb) President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology; Executive Order 13539, as amended (Department of Energy).

(cc) Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development; Executive Order 13540 (Small Business Administration).

(dd) Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health; Executive Order 13544 (Department of Health and Human Services).

(ee) State, Local, Tribal, and Private Sector (SLTPS) Policy Advisory Committee; Executive Order 13549 (National Archives and Records Administration).

(ff) President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; Executive Order 13555, re-established by Executive Order 13634 (Department of Education).

(gg) President’s Global Development Council; Executive Order 13600, as amended (United States Agency for International Development).

(hh) President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Executive Order 13621 (Department of Education).

(ii) President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa; Executive Order 13675 (Department of Commerce).

(jj)Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria; Executive Order 13676 (Department of Health and Human Services).

(kk) Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking; Executive Order 13648 (Department of the Interior).

(ll) Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee; initially established pursuant to Presidential Memorandum on Improving Spectrum Management for the 21st Century (November 30,

2004) (Department of Commerce).

(mm) National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board; National Security Policy Directive-39, “U.S. National Space-Based Position, Navigation, and Timing

Policy” (December 8, 2004) (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

(nn) San Juan Islands National Monument Advisory Committee; Proclamation 8947 of March 25, 2013 (Department of the Interior). 

Sec. 2.  Notwithstanding the provisions of any other Executive Order, the functions of the President under the Federal Advisory Committee Act that are applicable to the committees listed in section 1 of this order shall be performed by the head of the department or agency designated after each committee, in accordance with the regulations, guidelines, and procedures established by the Administrator of General Services.

Sec. 3.  Sections 1 and 2 of Executive Order 13652 of September 30, 2013, are superseded by sections 1 and 2 of this order.

Sec. 4.  Executive Order 12829 of January 6, 1993, is amended in section 103(c)(2) by striking “Administrator of General Services” and inserting in lieu thereof “National Archives and Records Administration” and 103(d) by striking “Administrator of General Services” and inserting in lieu thereof “the Archivist of the United States”.

Sec. 5.  This order shall be effective September 30, 2015.  

BARACK OBAMA

Press Releases: Remarks at a Meeting on International Peace and Security and Countering Terrorism

SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. President, thank you very much and thank you for the chance to address this council, to all the colleagues on the Security Council. I appreciate the fact that Russia’s presidency has chosen to focus on this issue, and I welcome the opportunity to talk about the urgent challenge of countering terrorism in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere.

This is a topic that the council has explored many times. Going back to the 9/11 attacks and even before, we have come together fairly often to condemn terrorism and also to take concerted action to counter violent extremist organizations. So this is not a debate about goals, I don’t think. We all oppose the aggressive ambitions of such organizations as ISIL, al-Qaida, and groups that initiate or that are imitating them or affiliated with them. We all oppose the atrocities that they commit, and we all want to end the suffering that they continue to inflict.

So there’s no debate about that. The question that we face is: How do you best do it? There are basic principles that we believe should guide our strategy. First, in confronting terrorism, we have to take a comprehensive approach. That was quite eloquently talked about by our heads of state at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit that President Obama hosted. There was a great deal of discussion. I thought there were some very articulate statements about how one approaches the root causes. We have to deny safe haven, disrupt the flow of foreign fighters, block access to financing, and expose the lies that terrorist groups propagate – and that is particularly challenging in this world of constant media, constant access, 24/7/365. We’re living in a very different world, and terrorists have learned how to exploit that media in all kinds of ways.

We also need to exert pressure in support of peace, perhaps one of the most important components of our responsibility in places such as Libya, for instance, where instability feeds the kind of chaos and fear in which extremist organizations thrive – and we see that now with the presence of ISIL in Libya.

So this is the fundamental strategy that we’ve laid out for countering violent extremism. We’ve adopted this strategy. We’re strongly engaged in implementing it. We welcome the large number of nations that have joined as international actors in the counter-ISIL coalition and the Global Counterterrorism Forum and other regional organizations. But obviously, more needs to be done. We’ve been able to counter some foreign fighters and kept them from traveling, but still too many have been able to travel and still been able to reach the destination. We’ve been able to slow down and stop some elements of the financing, but still there’s too much money that still is able to reach terrorist activities and actors.

So our goal is to take urgent actions against immediate threats while also facing up to longer-term measures that prevent the recruitment of future generations of terrorists and improve governance and enhance economic opportunities so that radicalization is less likely. This is an enormous challenge for all of us; we know it. There are countless countries where 60, 65 percent of the population in some cases are under the age of 30, under the age of 25, the vast majority, under the age of 18 in majority in many countries. And unless they find opportunity and options, their minds will be stolen; their opportunities will be robbed forever by bad actors who grab them in that vacuum.

We also need to improve governance and enhance economic opportunity so that radicalization is less likely. Too many places still see too much corruption, and corruption robs the populations of their due and of their possibilities.

In each of these areas, we intend to work hard with all of you and with others not here to improve our chance for success by working with the concerned elements of civil society, including NGOs, religious leaders, and the private sector. And meanwhile, we have to continue our efforts to alleviate the immediate hardships that terrorists are causing. While we’ve been pushing humanitarian relief into areas, the international community absolutely has to do more. We are staring at a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding not in one or two places, but in multiple places, simultaneously.

And the humanitarian disaster that we are witnessing in and of itself should be enough reason to take on ISIL. And this has been a major topic of our discussions here over these past days, but it has to remain a core concern for all of us in the weeks to come. Every nation can do more. Two UN Security Council resolutions – 2139 and 2165 – clearly require – and everyone around this table voted for them – clearly require humanitarian access to besieged areas, and they call for an end to barrel bombs, specifically, and the use of starvation as a weapon of war.

Now, I’d like to add a few thoughts about Syria, specifically, ISIL and Russia. The United States supports any genuine effort to fight ISIL and al-Qaida-affiliated groups, especially al-Nusrah. If Russia’s recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat that organization, then we are prepared to welcome those efforts and to find a way to de-conflict our operations and thereby multiply the military pressure on ISIL and affiliated groups. But we must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad. Moreover, we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaida-affiliated targets are not operating. Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime.

Now, we have informed Russia that we are prepared to hold these de-confliction talks as early as possible – this week. But let me be clear: The United States and the coalition will continue our ongoing air operations as we have from the very beginning. We have conducted a number of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria over the past 24 hours, including just an hour ago, and these strikes will continue. Let me be clear: The coalition that we have built, more than 60 countries strong, has been taking on ISIL for more than a year – by liberating Sinjar Mountain, liberating Kobani, liberating Tikrit, where now more than 100,000 residents have been able to return to their homes and resume their lives; defending Mosul Dam, defending Haditha; protecting Baghdad, rescuing endangered minorities; killing ISIL leaders and facilitators; and taking away the entire northern border of Syria for ISIL east of the Euphrates River.

At the same time, we have mounted a comprehensive campaign to cut terrorist financing, curb recruitment of foreign fighters, and expose the lies that ISIL is perpetrating. Today, as we speak, south of Kirkuk, Kurdish Peshmerga are heroically liberating villages from ISIL under the cover of coalition airstrikes. In addition, we continue to admire the courage and the resilience that has been demonstrated for four long years of struggle by the legitimate opposition to Assad.

Let me remind this council that coalition air operations are grounded in well-established military procedures, firmly based in international law, and the requests of neighboring states for collective self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. That foundation has not changed, and we will continue our mission with the full sanction of international law.

Pursuant to these procedures in Syria over the past year, the coalition has now conducted nearly 3,000 airstrikes against ISIL targets, and we are now in position with France, Australia, Canada, Turkey, and other coalition partners joining the campaign, to dramatically accelerate our efforts. This is what we will do. Over the coming weeks we will be continuing our flights out of Incirlik base in Turkey to apply constant pressure on strategic areas held by ISIL in northwest Syria.

We will also be sustaining our support to anti-ISIL fighters in northeast Syria. These efforts will put greater pressure on ISIL’s operational areas, and we will ensure through precision airstrikes that ISIL leaders do not have any sanctuary anywhere on the ground in Syria.

So ISIL will soon face increasing pressure from multiple directions across the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. But as we have said from the start and as the Geneva communique codified, this fight cannot be won in the military sphere. It will require a political solution for the crisis of Syria. One thing is certain: The vast majority of states around this table know that the ISIL forces, ISIL itself, cannot be defeated as long as Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria. It cannot happen by definition of the lines of this battle. It cannot happen because of who has lined up with whom and because of the nature of these protagonists.

And the reason for that is defined in the beginning by how this fight itself began. This fight began when young people, young Syrians looking for a future, wanting nothing more than opportunity and jobs and education, when they went out to demonstrate for the future and to claim the aspirations of young people, and Assad sent his thugs out to beat him – beat them up. The parents were outraged by the fact that their children, demonstrating peacefully, were beaten up. And they went out with their kids and they were met with bullets.

That is how this whole thing began – people in a country looking for a future who were instead met with repression, with torture, with gassing, with barrel bombs. Assad will never be accepted by those that he has harmed. Never possible to become a legitimate leader in the future. Never possible to lead a reconciliation nor a unification of a country. That could not happen until he makes clear his willingness to actually heal the nation, end the war, and decline to be part of the long-term future.

Today we must be focused on finding a solution that will stop the killing and lay the groundwork for a government that the Syrian people themselves can support. We know that the terrorists can neither unite the country nor govern it. We know that Assad can neither unite the country nor govern it. Neither extreme offers the solution that we need and want. What is more, our ability to develop a credible international political process would be a farce from the beginning – incredible enough that it won’t stop people from fighting – if it were perceived as a way to extend or strengthen Assad’s hold on power.

As President Obama said on Monday, “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a simple return to the pre-war status quo.”

My colleagues, the Government of Russia has argued that we must support Assad in order to defeat ISIL. But the reality is that Assad has rarely chosen himself to fight ISIL. As the terrorists made inroads throughout large swaths of Syria and Iraq, raping, enslaving, and murdering civilians along the way, the Syrian regime didn’t try to stop them. Instead, it focused all of its military power on moderate opposition groups who were fighting for a voice in Syria.

Make no mistake, the answer to the Syrian civil war cannot be found in a military alliance with Assad. But I am convinced that it can be found. It can be found through a broadly supported diplomatic initiative aimed at a negotiated political transition – a transition that has been accepted by the Security Council, accepted by participants of the Perm 5 – consistent with the Geneva Communique, which would unite all Syrians who reject dictatorship and terrorism and want to build a stable and united society.

So in conclusion, I call on all concerned governments – including Russia, including Syria – to support a UN initiative to broker a political transition. Further delay is unconscionable. The opportunity is before us. And if we can succeed in marginalizing the terrorists in Syria and in bringing that country together, we can, all of us together, do exactly what this was set up to do, this Security Council and this institution. We can strike a huge blow against violent extremism not only in Syria – also in Iraq, across the Middle East, and around the world. And nothing would be more in keeping with the high purpose for which this Council was created 70 years ago. And nothing would better serve the interests of the people that all of us represent.

I hope we can achieve that. Thank you.

Reflecting on Lessons Learned from Ebola Outbreak

As the UN celebrates the official launch of the post-2015 agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals and world leaders start laying out their views in the UN General Debate, much of this week in New York is about looking forward. But on the sidelines of the main events focused on the SDGs, peacekeeping, violent extremism and the Syrian crisis, many are using this week as an opportunity to look back at the past year. Namely, a year after the West African Ebola outbreak reached its peak, many are discussing what went wrong and how to better prepare for the next epidemic.

With more than 28,000 estimated cases and over 11,000 deaths, there is no doubt that the West African Ebola outbreak is the largest in history. Although the outbreak mainly impacted the three West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, cases were ultimately reported in nine other countries including Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, the US and most of Western Europe. The outbreak, which the World Health Organization and international public health community were slow to recognize as Ebola, severely strained the resources of the local and international health system and highlighted how dangerous epidemics can be if they are not managed properly.

In July, a report by an independent panel of experts found that the WHO was not only slow to respond to the outbreak, but lacked the institutional culture to respond adequately once it was clear how devastating the outbreak would be. In some ways the report only confirmed what many public health experts and commentators suspected as the Ebola outbreak raged on. But rather than placing blame, the report and the discussions around it also give the WHO and its member states the opportunity to reform, hopefully ensuring that everyone involved will be better prepared the next time a complex international epidemic occurs.

As Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Secreary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, pointed out to UN Dispatch earlier this week, epidemics always seem to come as a surprise, no matter what the warning signs are. Specific aspects of West Africa such as cultural practices around death, the close proximity of rural forested areas to heavily populated urban cities and the fragile nature of the national health systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone may have made the outbreak worse, but the inability of the international community to prepare and respond rapidly also contributed to the devastation. Changing this culture of reaction, rather than prevention, is a key part of being ready for the next epidemic, no matter where it comes.

But this change will require more than just reports and high level recommendations. Much of the discussion around the SDGs this past week has been about how the 17 goals adopted are formulated in such a way to require all actors and stakeholders involved to “break out of their silos” and work together across multiple disciplinary fields. Emergency health response and epidemiology are no different, where far more cooperation is needed not just local, national and international levels of government, but among aid workers, health care workers, scientists and community leaders.

In retrospect, it is easy to see how the lack of communication compounded the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It took nearly three months before the mysterious disease popping up across Guinea was identified as Ebola, mainly because local and international health care workers didn’t think that Ebola could occur in West Africa as previous outbreaks were limited to Uganda and the DRC. Yet in the years leading up to the outbreak, scientists found Ebola antibodies in bats throughout the Upper Guinean forests that extend from Guinea to Ghana. The antibodies are an indication that the bats – believed to act as reservoirs and carriers of Ebola – had come into contact with the virus. Since 2005 when antibody testing became common, the presence of the antibodies have been associated with outbreaks among humans as the more carriers of the virus are around, the more likely a person will come into contact with them and be infected. But because this information largely stayed in academic literature, those responsible for identifying and responding to the disease had no idea that Ebola was a strong possibility.

But there are lessons that can be learned from this. Breaking down walls between different disciplines can help everyone be ready for the next epidemic, increasing response time and improving containment. Many of the meetings happening this week aim to create this new culture of cooperation and interaction, making sure that the next epidemic that comes around, we will all be ready.

Discussion

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Closing ‘vast’ gender gap, ending child marriage key priorities, Ghanaian President tells UN

30 September 2015 – Spotlighting the importance his country places on gender equality, the President of Ghana told the United Nations General Assembly today that a major priority will closing the “vast” gaps between men and women through, among other efforts, providing decent education for girls and working to end child marriage.

“Most of the world’s poorest people are women,” John Dramani Mahama said. “Currently we create programs and policies to address this imbalance, yet regardless of how successful they may be, they are not permanent solutions. They do not solve the ultimate problem, which is the vast inequality between men and women that so many traditions have inculcated.”

He also addressed the plight of children and the work his country is doing to address their needs.

“In order to address the issue of child mortality and malnutrition, preparatory work is underway to earmark disbursements for pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of one,” he said.

He noted the central role of education in achieving gender parity, emphasizing that it was “the key to change.”

“In Ghana, we have made tremendous progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goal target on universal basic education. We instituted the ‘Girl Child Program,’ which encourages parents to send girls to school, and at the primary level we have achieved gender parity between boys and girls,” he said.

Turning to the practice of child marriage on the continent, Mr. Mahama highlighted that, in West Africa, two out of five girls are married before they turn 18, face increased maternal mortality rates and “are subject to the sort of poverty that is nearly insurmountable.”

“Ghana has launched a campaign, under the auspices of [the UN Children’s Fund] to end child marriage in our nation by focusing not only on getting young girls in school but also on keeping them there their education is complete,” he continued. “This is being achieved through enhanced access to secondary education and beyond without compromising quality.”

On UN reform, he emphasized that it was time “for greater inclusivity in the United Nations.”

“The world that was in 1945 does not exist now in 2015,” he continued, “so the visionary Organization that was formed to meet the needs of that world must now be reformed to meet the needs of this one.”

He also delineated those needs, among them the issues caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and Al-Qaida, as well to address the as those killed in the South Sudan conflict and the “thousands dead in Syria, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Mexico, Afghanistan and Somalia; thousands more, the majority from African nations, dead in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to flee poverty, hunger, disease or political strife or persecution.”