Experts call for reform of global infectious disease protocols

Over a year after fears of the West African Ebola epidemic gripped the United States healthcare system, a panel of experts called for far-reaching reforms in how public health organizations handle the threat of infectious disease.

Numerous deaths and other damage could have been prevented with a more efficient international response to the outbreak, according to the report published in The Lancet, echoing earlier findings that castigated the World Health Organization's (WHO) delayed response and suggested a quicker response could have averted the outbreak altogether. 

Despite reforms at the WHO in the wake of the findings, the new report says public health leaders must still address systemic problems with infectious disease responses, including lack of accountability and little political incentive to address outbreaks. The Ebola outbreak could have a similar effect on public health to the HIV/AIDS crisis, which led to alliances between humanitarians and scientists that "created global health," according to Peter Piot, M.D., Ph.D., director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who chaired the panel.

The panel's 10 recommendations vary in difficulty and cost. One calls on the WHO to encourage its member states to monitor and account for any deviations from temporary recommendations. Another urges the creation of an international fund to fortify core public health capacities and adding emergency response protocols to the International Health Regulations. It also recommends WHO activities go back to basic functions with a reformed funding model that guarantees the organization could focus on core functions.

David Nabarro, M.D., the United Nation's special envoy on Ebola, told the Wall Street Journal that the report largely reflected his own concerns about future outbreaks and praised the recommendation of scaling the WHO back to core functions, but said meaningful solutions must not transfer too much authority away from the WHO. In such a scenario, "I worry about where accountability lies," he said.

To learn more:
- read the report abstract
- here's the WSJ article