Experts have called for urgent changes at the World Health Organisation (WHO) after their investigations found that the agency’s response to West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak was inadequate. In the critical report, a UN-appointed panel of independent experts said the WHO was too slow in not declaring a global public health emergency until August 8, 2014, five months after the outbreak had taken hold. The epidemic killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
It “tends to adopt a reactive, rather than a proactive approach to emergencies” and failed to act on the warnings of experienced staff on the ground, the panel said on Tuesday. The Geneva-based WHO was criticised for its early assurances that the disease was under control despite repeated warnings to the contrary by the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. The panel recommended that a $100m contingency fund, suggested by WHO for future emergencies, be fully financed by member states. It also called for the creation of a separate emergency preparedness and response unit within the WHO.
The UN agency “does not currently possess the capacity or organisational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response,” the panel said. “This is a defining moment for the health of the global community,” the report said. “[The] WHO must re-establish its pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health. This will require significant changes.” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan admitted in May it had been “overwhelmed” by the Ebola epidemic and “ought to have reacted far earlier”.