Samantha Power at the Security Council

UN Security Council to Hold Emergency Meeting on Ebola

How unprecedented is the ebola outbreak in west Africa?

The outbreak has so far claimed thousands of lives and is far from being under control. Ambassador Samantha Power today, in her capacity as President of the Security Council, announced that the Council will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to coordinate a response to the ebola crisis.

This is basically unheard of.

By definition only matters pertaining to “international peace and security” are broached at the Security Council. It is exceedingly rare for a public health issue to be discussed in this setting. In 2000, Al Gore lead a Security Council session on HIV/AIDS. But this is the first time that I can recall that a health issue was being discussed in an emergency session.

Details about the meeting on thursday are still in flux. According to Ambassador Power, Ban Ki Moon, WHO chief Margaret Chan, and — possibly a health worker from an affected country–are slated to address the council. Representatives from the affected countries will all be in attendance.

The meeting will come on the heels of a President Obama’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control tomorrow, where he is slated to make a big speech to outline a new US strategy to deal with the crisis. I expect that Ambassador Power called this emergency session to give some international imprimatur to the strategy that will be outlined by President Obama tomorrow. I would also expect that the meeting will help galvanize the international community around the new efforts–and funding increases–that Obama is expected to announce tomorrow in Atlanta.

At the press stakeout announcing the emergency Security Council meeting, Amb Power said chillingly that  “ebola could claim lives on a scale greater than current estimates and set the countries of West Africa back a generation.”

The WHO reports that 2,200 people have died from this ebola outbreak. And current estimates for the probable number of people who will be afflicted by this outbreak is over 20,000 over the next several months.

It may be rare to discuss a health emergency at the Security Council. But this ebola outbreak surely qualifies as a threat to international peace and security.