Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the World Health Summit 2014

19.10.2014 - Speech

– The spoken word takes precedence –

Federal Minister Gröhe,

Minister Louardi,

Minister Ndimubanzi,

Madame Giradin,

Professor Ganten,

Professor Marshall,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


It is a great honour and pleasure to welcome you to the sixth World Health Summit! The World Health Summit is one of the world’s largest conferences on global health issues. Until quite recently, holding this conference at the Federal Foreign Office – for the second time now – would have warranted a lengthy justification. Today, we need but quote one sentence: “The unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” This was agreed unanimously by the Security Council of the United Nations one month ago.

There can no longer be any doubt today that cross-border health risks call for new forms of international cooperation.

If we do not act, the consequences will be unforeseeable, also for us here in Germany.

We have received dramatic cries for help from the region in recent weeks. It is clear to us that we cannot simply abandon these people – and we will not do so! I understand those who felt that the international community was not doing enough. I would add on a self-critical note that there was probably truth in the reproach that we were not sufficiently prepared for the scale or momentum of the epidemic. That makes it all the more important for all countries, as well as you, experts from the business and science sectors, to help curb the spread of the epidemic.

Ebola is spreading, seemingly unstoppably, in West Africa. The virus has had a horrendous impact on society in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Around 8,900 people are infected; more than 4,400 deaths have been mourned. The WHO estimates that the actual figures could be double this. Already weak public health systems are threatening to collapse under the strain of the epidemic. This humanitarian catastrophe is accompanied by a political and social crisis: in places where death is not already tearing communities apart, panic and marginalisation are undermining the social fabric. The countries hit hardest by the virus are already among the poorest in the world. And now they are faced with harvests rotting in the fields, empty schools, and social life grinding to a halt. Unstable societies and collapsing state structures create the breeding ground for radicalisation and waves of migration – as well as for war. Unfortunately, we have already seen such destructive domino effects in other crisis regions.

Anyone who is aware of the scale of this crisis will recognise that in the joint fight against this invisible virus, we need an international alliance which stands together – no country can succeed alone.

Against this backdrop, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has set up a mission for West Africa which aims to provide the impetus for a new form of international cooperation.

That is why the United Nations and the World Health Organization are coordinating the international efforts in the fight against Ebola.

The Federal Government is organising its action under the umbrella of this international alliance:

we have established an airlift and are working with up to 100 servicemen and -women to set up and operate a logistics chain. The first relief flights from Dakar to Monrovia have been sent.

The Federal Government is supporting the German Red Cross in running treatment facilities with over 200 beds, as well as a number of basic health clinics. The Bundeswehr is currently working on transporting a field hospital for up to 50 patients to the region and helping to set it up. We want to recruit additional medical support staff and to create the prerequisites for a functioning rescue chain.

The Federal Government is providing over 100 million euros in aid. This funding is going to the WHO and humanitarian non-governmental organisations, which are providing urgently needed help on the ground. Further priorities are to support the German Red Cross, finance additional diagnostics laboratories, and above all, provide logistical support for aid deliveries.

We are in constant contact with partner organisations active in the field of humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, as well as with companies and private initiatives, in order to get further medical materials and food to where they are needed. The Federal Agency for Technical Relief is closely involved in this work.

Furthermore, we have appointed a Special Representative – Ambassador Lindner – to coordinate Germany’s measures in the fight against Ebola and to create a central point of contact. He will tell us about his first-hand impressions of the situation on the ground during the special symposium on Ebola tomorrow morning.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are all aware of the importance of having support from members of the public in tackling acute humanitarian crises.

Within just a few days, thousands of volunteers in our country responded to a call for help by the German Government and the German Red Cross. Many of them are currently being trained for their deployment in the crisis-hit region. I would like to take this opportunity to thank these volunteers, many of whom are young people, for their commitment and their willingness to help. We politicians sometimes talk in the abstract about “taking on more responsibility in the world” – the volunteers are putting this idea into practice. Many thanks!

I am also pleased that the first companies have responded to the Federal Foreign Office’s call for support. One example is Bayer, which will provide medication worth over three million US dollars.

In particular, the German-African Business Association and the German Healthcare Partnership reacted immediately to our call and mobilised their member companies. I know that not every company is in a position to donate millions. But we also need smaller amounts – and above all, we need your expertise!

Ladies and gentlemen,

The foreign ministers of Europe will be meeting tomorrow to coordinate our activities and see what initial lessons we can take from this for the future. I believe that we, the EU, need to become quicker and more effective in this field. I propose that we focus on three levels.

Firstly, we need to get better at sharing, pooling and making joint use of our capabilities. Germany, for example, is currently training volunteers to go and help out in the crisis-hit region. Other EU countries could contribute to that training capacity.

Secondly, the magnitude of the Ebola crisis calls for a comprehensive approach encompassing all the instruments of our common foreign and security policy. We should therefore consider sending our own civilian EU mission. This would mean that even those member states which don’t have national arrangements on the ground would have a platform for sending medical personnel.

Thirdly, it is completely standard these days for the EU to send jointly trained election observers to all corners of the globe. I feel we should think about establishing a similar pool of medical and logistics experts, which we could activate as a swift and focused response to severe crises.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’ve spoken at length about Ebola – but your summit of course concerns itself with the whole gamut of challenges facing healthcare policy.

What Ebola shows is that new diseases and worldwide epidemics pose a threat to national and international security. Health risks also undermine economic growth and opportunities for development as well as the social and political stability of entire regions.

Growing health risks demand that governments and experts collaborate and share information quickly and efficiently, at a global level.

The World Health Summit provides a forum for doing just that, and I’d like to thank you, Professor Ganten, for once again organising a conference in which all the leading health sector stakeholders are actively involved.

Politics alone – as the example of Ebola shows – will not be able to tackle the various Herculean tasks facing healthcare around the world.

To do that, we need you: science, business and especially civil society. I thank you all for everything you are doing – and wish you once again a warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office!

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