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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to