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Report: WHO needs reform over Ebola crisis

May 11, 2015

The World Health Organization (WHO) has failed to respond to Ebola properly and needs "'deep and substantial change," a new report says. According to the expert team, the WHO delayed taking decisive action for too long.

Ebola Jahresrückblick
Image: Getty Images/J. Moore

In an interim report published on Monday, the six-member panel said it was "still unclear" why the UN health agency took so long to heed early warnings about the Ebola epidemic and provide an "effective and adequate" response.

"Although WHO drew attention to the 'unprecedented outbreak' at a press conference in April 2014, this was not followed by international mobilization and a consistent communication strategy," the UN-sponsored report said.

Instead, it only declared a global health emergency in August last year, after the disease had claimed almost one thousand lives.

Panel chief Barbara Stocking did not directly answer questions on possible personal responsibility for the delay by WHO staff.

"The world has failed," Stocking told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

The expert team also criticized authorities' reaction in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which have suffered the most from the deadly virus that has killed over 11,000 people. While Liberia was proclaimed ebola-free over the weekend, other countries are still reporting new cases.

In addition, the authors of the report said that WHO's coordination with the local institutions and key actors on the ground was weak and inadequate.

'Never again'

WHO had previously acknowledged that it had moved too slowly, while pointing to a lack of resources and intelligence from the field, as well as the unprecedented spread of the virus.

In January, WHO chief Margaret Chan said that the crisis "delivered some horrific shocks and surprises."

"Ebola is a tragedy that has taught the world, including WHO, many lessons also about how to prevent similar events in the future," she said, adding: "Never again should the world be caught by surprise, unprepared."

Global focus on WHO

The expert panel, however, said Monday that the agency still did not have the capacity to handle a similar outbreak, saying that the organization needs to work on restoring confidence.

"The biggest skill gap continues to be found in the area of crisis coordination and leadership, and this needs to be addressed," wrote the experts.

The team advised WHO to streamline its bureaucracy and set up flexible teams of first responders, as well as to build up its leadership skills. The experts are due to present their final findings in June.

The UN health agency's handling of the epidemic will also be debated at the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, set to start next week.

dj/kms (AFP, dpa, AP, epd)