By Elaine Magliaro
The Guardian reported on Friday that the World Health Organization (WHO), the public health agency of the United Nations, admitted to “mishandling the early stages of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa…” WHO said that it had “failed to recognise the risks of the disease in the fragile states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
The draft of an internal WHO document that was obtained by the Associated Press says, “Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall.” According to Aljazeera, the WHO document, which is a timeline of the outbreak, found that the organization “missed chances to prevent Ebola from spreading soon after it was first diagnosed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea last spring, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.” Aljazeera said that one of the report’s findings was that WHO’s “own experts failed to grasp that traditional infectious disease containment methods would not work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems…” The WHO report also said, “Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall.”
The Associated Press reported that back in April when Doctors Without Borders warned “that Ebola cases were out of control, a dispute on social media broke out between the charity and a WHO spokesman who insisted the virus was being contained.” The internal report also says that Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s chief, was not “alerted to the seriousness of the outbreak” and “of the organization’s botched efforts in West Africa” until June. AP reported that Dr. Bruce Aylward emailed Dr. Chan that month about serious concerns that were being raised “about WHO’s leadership in West Africa, telling her that some of the agency’s partners — including national health agencies and charities — believed WHO was ‘compromising rather than aiding’ the response to Ebola.” Less than a week later, Dr. Chan “received a six-page letter from the agency’s network of experts, spelling out what they saw as severe shortcomings in WHO’s response to the deadly virus.”
According to the report, one of the main causes of WHO’s bungled response to the Ebola outbreak was the organizations “own bureaucracy.” The report “pointed out that the heads of its country offices in Africa are ‘politically motivated appointments’ made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan.” The co-discoverer of the Ebola virus Dr. Peter Piot “agreed that WHO acted far too slowly.” During an interview, Dr. Piot said, “It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the front line. And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”
WHO declined to comment on the document, which was not issued publicly, and said that Chan would be unavailable for an interview.
She did tell Bloomberg News that she “was not fully informed of the evolution of the outbreak. We responded, but our response may not have matched the scale of the outbreak and the complexity of the outbreak”.
Mission Unaccomplished: Containing Ebola In Africa
WHO faulted for Ebola failures as Obama taps czar (Associated Press)
World Health Organisation admits botching response to Ebola outbreak
UN health agency acknowledged ‘nearly everyone involved in the response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall’ (The Guardian)