WHO (World Health Organization) Admits It Bungled Response to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Ebola Virus

Ebola Virus

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 WHO_svgchances 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)

WHO Won’t Explain Document Revealing Ebola-Related Mistakes (TPM News)

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)

WHO faulted for Ebola response failures: Internal report says World Health Organization bungled efforts to halt the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. (Aljazeera)


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7 Responses to WHO (World Health Organization) Admits It Bungled Response to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

  1. auntynini says:

    I think the PR paradigm of apologizing for botched responses should not let folks off the hook. People need to follow the money on this….

  2. Elaine M. says:

    Liberian Leader Warns Ebola Risks Causing A ‘Lost Generation’

    DAKAR, Oct 19 (Reuters) – The Ebola outbreak in West Africa risks unleashing an economic catastrophe that will leave a “lost generation” of young West Africans, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Sunday, urging stronger international action.

    The worst epidemic on record of the deadly virus has now killed more than 4,500 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Eight people have also died in Nigeria and cases have been reported in the United States and Spain.

    Johnson Sirleaf said the international reaction to the outbreak, detected in March deep in the forests of southern Guinea, was initially “inconsistent and lacking in clear direction or urgency.”

  3. bron98 says:


    one cause is the custom of washing the dead by hand. The other part of the problem is that some health care workers were driven off or possibly killed because they [locals] thought the workers were spreading ebola.

    Africa is a seriously messed up place [and no, not just because of European colonialism]. Graft and corruption are serious problems, the education level of many of the people, the tribal disputes and on and on.

    So to accuse the WHO, isnt exactly fair.

  4. Elaine M. says:


    I was watching a program this morning–I think it was on C-Span–where the person being interviewed talked about the burial procedures/treatment of the dead bodies had been a contributing factor to the Ebola epidemic.

    Ebola: Liberia deaths ‘far higher than reported’ as officials downplay epidemic
    Film-maker Sorious Samura, recently returned from Liberia, says Ebola is still not under control, with cultural practices and data problems masking the true extent of the epidemic

    The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of west Africa’s most celebrated film-makers.

    Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organisation.

    Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500.

    Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

    “People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.”

  5. bigfatmike says:

    It has been said or at least implied before that we will never be safe here in the US so long as Ebola is out of control in Africa, or anywhere else for that matter.

    In view of that, I think our response has been muted if not down right inadequate. If ever we needed a coalition of nations to take strong action it is now.

  6. buckaroo says:

    “Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law”
    — Sophocles

  7. Elaine M. says:

    CDC To Revise Ebola Protocol

    ATLANTA (AP) — Revised guidance for health care workers treating Ebola patients will include using protective gear “with no skin showing,” a top federal health official said Sunday, and the Pentagon announced it was forming a team to assist medical staff in the U.S., if needed.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said those caring for an Ebola patient in Dallas were vulnerable because some of their skin was exposed.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on revisions to safety protocols. Earlier ones, he said, were based on a World Health Organization model in which care was given in more remote places, often outdoors, and without intensive training for health workers.

    “So there were parts about that protocol that left vulnerability, parts of the skin that were open,” Fauci said.

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