Report slams WHO for slow Ebola response

The World Health Organization responded too slowly to the viral outbreak in West Africa last year, according to a panel of experts.

Abbas Dulleh/AP
Health care workers walk past boots that were washed to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus inside a USAID funded Ebola clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, Jan. 30, 2015.

A new report released by a panel of experts examined the World Health Organization’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and criticized the organization for letting political considerations sway its decision-making.

The WHO did not declare a global emergency for Ebola until August 8, 2014, after 1,000 people diagnosed with the disease had died. The efforts to contain the virus were slow due to "a hope that the crisis could be managed by good diplomacy,” the report said, citing WHO’s excessive concern for “country politics.”

The report also mentioned WHO’s “bureaucratic culture” as a reason for the slow response.

Meanwhile, other respected institutions drew similar conclusions about the WHO’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

An investigation conducted by the Associated Press suggested that WHO officials were slow to declare an emergency because they were afraid Western African governments would perceive it as a “hostile act.”

"WHO, as currently structured and resourced, has been starkly exposed as incapable,”  says Kelley Lee, who sits on a panel chaired by Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that is also analyzing WHO's Ebola response.

Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian professor of virology who sits on the WHO's Ebola Emergency Committee, a separate group, also concluded that " [the response] was an escalation of incompetence all the way to the top.”

The latest report, however, did not blame any specific individuals for the problems.

"We didn't go into it saying, 'we must blame somebody,'" said Barbara Stocking, the former head of Oxfam Great Britain who led the panel. "We were much more focused on this being a learning exercise."

After the outbreak was discovered in Guinea in March 2014, an estimated 11,000 people diagnosed with the disease have died. The vast majority of cases were in three West African nations: Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Some members of the public health community expressed concern that the institution is already examining lessons learned when health officials say the outbreak is still ongoing.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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