World Health Organization criticised for its ‘slow response’ to Ebola outbreak
A ‘slow global response’ contributed to “immense human suffering, fear and chaos” during the recent Ebola epidemic, according to a panel of international health experts.
Its report, published in The Lancet, suggests major reform is needed if a similar situation is to be avoided in future. It criticises the World Health Organization (WHO), describing the delay in declaring the outbreak an international emergency – five months after being notified of the situation by the governments of Guinea and Liberia – as an “egregious failure”.
While recognising that dealing with the epidemic “engendered acts of outstanding courage and solidarity” from those on the ground, the report also describes the overall global response, which began in late 2014, as inflexible, inadequate and poorly-coordinated resulting in “immense human suffering, fear and chaos”.
The report, authored by an independent team of 20 health experts assembled by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and The Harvard Global Health Institute, says the countries affected the most were unable to detect, report and respond rapidly enough to manage the outbreak singlehandedly – which allowed the outbreak to develop into an epidemic and what they describe as a “worldwide crisis”.
It calls for a global strategy to assist poorer countries monitor, report and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease, with those failing to do so named and shamed. It also recommends a dedicated WHO centre of outbreak response and a global fund to finance research into drug development.
The specialist panel is chaired by Belgian Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and one of the experts that first identified the deadly virus in 1976.
He says: "Major reform of national and global systems to respond to epidemics are not only feasible, but also essential so that we do not witness such depths of suffering, death and social and economic havoc in future epidemics.
"The AIDS pandemic put global health on the world's agenda. The Ebola crisis in West Africa should now be an equal game- changer for how the world prevents and responds to epidemics."
WHO's director-general Margaret Chan has recently admitted that it could have mounted a more robust response, and promises fundamental changes to the way the Organization deals with future health emergencies.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said the report had "sobering lessons" which must be learned and "translated into concrete action if we are to avert another crisis".
The Ebola outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 11,300 people across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since it began in December 2013. Although declared Ebola-free for the past two months, Liberian authorities have reported in recent days that three people from the same family have been placed in secure isolation after testing positive for the disease in recent days, with a further 150 people currently being monitored for signs of infection.
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