WHO 'unprepared to deal with Ebola' - Panel

  • 08/07/2015
More than 10,000 people have died from the Ebola virus in the past 18 months (Reuters)
More than 10,000 people have died from the Ebola virus in the past 18 months (Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is institutionally unprepared to deal with outbreaks like the Ebola crisis and requires urgent and fundamental change, an independent panel of experts has warned.

More than 10,000 people have died from the highly infectious Ebola virus in the past 18 months, most them in the west African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where it continues to claim lives.

The WHO has been criticised for its slow response - it only declared a global public health emergency on August 8, 2014, five months after the outbreak had taken hold.

In a highly critical report, a UN-appointed panel warned on Tuesday (local time) that the WHO "tends to adopt a reactive, rather than a proactive approach to emergencies" and failed to act on the warnings of experienced staff on the ground.

When it finally mobilised, Director-General Margaret Chan and senior staff failed to show the "independent and courageous decision-making" required to deal with governments of the affected countries, it said.

The UN agency also failed to engage with local communities early on or to communicate what could be done, for example, to reduce the infection risk from burials, the panel said.

In Guinea, communities are still not convinced of their own responsibilities.

"Until that issue is resolved, very high alert levels need to be maintained," the experts warned.

However, the panel led by Barbara Stocking, a former head of Oxfam, rejected suggestions that global health emergencies be taken over by another UN agency or a new body altogether.

It called for more investment in the WHO, including a US$100 million (NZ$150. 42 million) emergency contingency fund and a five per cent increase in regular contributions from member states, warning a lack of funds put it at a "severe disadvantage".