Report slams WHO for Ebola response

The World Health Organization's slow response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa demonstrates the need for substantial reform within the agency, according to an initial report by an independent panel of experts.

The outbreak has killed about 11,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the WHO's delayed response exacerbated the problem, along with the fragile public health infrastructures of the affected countries, said the six-person Ebola Interim Assessment Panel that complied the report. Although the agency received early warnings from May to July of last year, it did not declare a public health emergency until that August.

Although public health experts have suggested establishing a new United Nations agency to handle similar future outbreaks, the report recommended a new structure under the umbrella of the WHO.

The report further recommends international leaders "give [the] WHO new relevance and empower it to lead in global health." This would mean major structural reforms of the agencies' finance, funding increases from United Nations member states and possibly creating further financial mechanisms such as contingency funds.

Moreover, the report states, the WHO will need to make changes in its organizational culture. The largest skill gap within the agency is within leadership and crisis coordination. "Wherever possible, however, in-country coordination should be led by the governments of the affected countries themselves," the report states. "This should include taking into account their own assessment of needs."

The Ebola outbreak offered numerous lessons for future public health crisis, according to a February Health Affairs blog post, such as the need to address the public in a way that assuages their fears about such diseases, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Part of the problem is that post-9/11, public health agencies largely operate through the lens of counterterrorism, which "has deformed our public health agencies and made them less able to prevent and respond to new infectious diseases," the post states.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)