Expert Panel Slams WHO Over Ebola Response

European Commission DG ECHO via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Ebola crisis has exposed organizational failures within the World Health Organization (WHO), according to an independent report. The 28-page report criticized the WHO for not reacting faster to the deadly virus, which killed 11,000 people in West Africa.

The scathing report, commissioned by the WHO itself, called for “significant changes” throughout the organization. The advisory panel blamed the organization’s bureaucratic culture for failing to respond rapidly to early warning signs of the Ebola outbreak and not declaring a global public health emergency until August 8, 2014, by which time more than 1,000 people had already died of the virus.

“WHO does not have a culture of rapid decision-making and tends to adopt a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach to emergencies,” the panel said in its report.

“In the early stages of the Ebola crisis, messages were sent by experienced staff at headquarters and the Regional Office for Africa, including after deployments in the field, about the seriousness of the crisis. Either these did not reach senior leaders or senior leaders did not recognize their significance.”

The panel, headed by Barbara Stocking, a former head of Oxfam GB, called for a separate emergency preparedness and response unit within the WHO. The report also recommended a $100 million contingency fund to be set aside for future emergencies.

Stocking points out that the report has criticized the organization as a whole and not focused on individuals. As the Associated Press reports, critics were disappointed the report didn’t specifically name individuals and suggest little has changed since a similar report was published in response to how the WHO dealt with the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

 “This is a defining moment for the health of the global community,” the report said. “[The] WHO must re-establish its pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health. This will require significant changes.”

The WHO welcomed the report in a statement and thanked “the hard-working members” of the panel for their review. The organization has already made plans to adopt some of the recommendations, with the global health emergency workforce and the contingency fund in development. 

Photo credit: European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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