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World Health Organization criticized in new report

Valvur, AndyJuly 8, 2015

A panel of independent experts has called for change at the World Health Organization. Without blaming specific individuals, they've said the Ebola crisis showed the organization is unprepared to deal with catastrophes.

Afrika Ebola Ausbruch in Liberia
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A UN-appointed panel of experts has said the WHO's inadequate response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa exposed the agency's organizational failings, and called for urgent change.

A report released on Tuesday said that the UN health agency "does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response."

The panel recommended that a $100 million (91 million euros) contingency fund be fully financed by member states. It also called for the creation of a separate emergency preparedness and response unit within the WHO.

"This is a defining moment for the health of the global community," said the report. "(The) WHO must re-establish its pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health. This will require significant changes."

Ebola response faulted

WHO did not declare a global emergency for Ebola until August 8, 2014, when nearly 1,000 people in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia had died from the disease.

It is estimated that more than the outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in toal.

The panel also noted that experienced WHO staff sent messages early on that the outbreak was serious.

"Either these did not reach senior leaders or senior leaders did not recognize their significance," noted the panel in its report.

"It was an escalation of incompetence all the way to the top," said Oyewale Tomori, who sits on WHO's Ebola Emergency Committee, a separate group.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan admitted in May that it had been "overwhelmed" by the Ebola epidemic and "ought to have reacted far earlier".

In a response to Tuesday's report, the WHO said it was already moving forward on some of the panel's recommendations, including the development of the emergency unit and the contingency fund.

Dr Joanne Liu of the aid group Doctors Without Borders praised the report's focus on researching experimental drugs and reforming the public health emergency system. However, Liu said it was still disconcerting that some groups were laying out recommendations, even as Ebola continues to claim more victims each week.

"I am appalled to a certain extent that we spend so much time on the next epidemic when we still haven't dealt with this one," said Liu.

av/jr (Reuters, AP)