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WHO elects new chief to head up health emergencies unit

June 28, 2016

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named a chief to head up its new health emergencies unit. The UN agency was criticized for its response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, prompting it to set up the new unit.

Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Samaritan's Purse

Peter Salama, an Australian epidemiologist who is currently UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, has been tapped to head the WHO's health emergencies unit and will take up his post in July.

The program he will run was set up after the WHO was accused of "egregious failure" in handling the Ebola crisis, during which over 11,000 people died as the disease spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2015 and early 2016.

The unit will provide rapid support for any country or community facing a health emergency arising from disease, natural or man-made disasters or conflict, the WHO said in a statement.

The Ebola epidemic caused "immense human suffering, fear and chaos," which went "largely unchecked" by the WHO's leadership, a specialist health panel said last year.

China's Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, WHO.
China's Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, WHO.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. di Nolfi

Children in the front line

Meanwhile, the UN children's agency said this week that 69 million children under five will die from preventable causes between now and 2030 if action to improve health and education for the most disadvantaged is not accelerated.

UNICEF has said in its annual report that 167 million children will also live in extreme poverty, 60 million won't be attending primary school and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030 unless inequality is tackled now.

Many are fleeing because of poverty and inequality, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said. "These root causes must be addressed if you're going to stop some of these forces overwhelming particular countries and polarizing the political debate," he said. "Our job in UNICEF is to be there on the ground and helping children survive," he added.

UNICEF has called on all 193 UN member states to develop national plans that put the most disadvantaged children first and set clear goals to close gaps between the richest and poorest.

Stigmatized - life after Ebola

jbh/kl (Reuters, AP)