WHO's Ebola response 'a failure'

A Jan 5 photo shows red cross workers carrying the body of a person who died from Ebola, in Monrovia.
A Jan 5 photo shows red cross workers carrying the body of a person who died from Ebola, in Monrovia. PHOTO: AFP

WHO lacks capacity and culture to deal with global health crises, says ex-Oxfam chief

LONDON • The World Health Organisation (WHO) cannot deal adequately with global health emergencies, says the chairman of a new report on the Ebola outbreak.

The BBC yesterday said Dame Barbara Stocking's conclusion is that WHO failed in its handling of the outbreak, which has killed more than 11,000 people, mostly in West Africa. She said WHO lacks the "capacity and culture" to deal with such large-scale international health emergencies.

Dame Barbara, a former regional head of Britain's National Health Service, later became the chief executive of charity Oxfam UK for 12 years, until February 2013.

"To me, coming from somewhere like Oxfam which is an emergency culture, you are very much, if you like, on the front foot. You are always trying to prevent a situation coming through or grab it when it starts and really get it under control very fast and those are some of the internal changes that have to be made at WHO," she told the BBC.

But she also said WHO is not solely at fault, blaming instead a lack of foresight by the whole humanitarian system, the BBC reported.

WHO has set out plans for reform, admitting it was too slow to respond to the Ebola outbreak that began in 2013, said the BBC.

In August last year, WHO declared Ebola a public health emergency of international concern. By that point, more than 1,000 people had died of the virus.

"We will be making recommendations to WHO about how it needs to change itself," Dame Barbara told the BBC.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will host a global Ebola recovery conference in New York on Friday to raise more funds for reconstruction.

Ahead of the meeting, WHO officials on Monday said Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone need a further US$696 million (S$942 million) in donor funding to rebuild their battered health services over the next two years in the wake of the deadly epidemic.

WHO's assistant director-general for health systems and innovation, Ms Marie-Paule Kieny, said donors had pledged US$1.4 billion of an estimated US$2.1 billion required by the three countries before December 2017.

More than 500 healthcare staff were among the over 11,200 people killed in West Africa by the worst recorded outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which erupted in Guinea in December 2013 and continues to claim lives.

"Full recovery in the three countries will not happen if we don't strengthen the health system," Ms Kieny told journalists. She said additional funding would also be required after 2017.

Even before Ebola struck, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had some of the poorest healthcare systems in the world, but the damage inflicted by the outbreak has left them more vulnerable than ever, officials have said.

The re-emergence of Ebola in Liberia last week, nearly two months after the country was declared free of the virus, has stoked fears that it may take longer than expected to defeat the epidemic.

Ms Kieny said it was too soon to say how the three new cases - one of whom has died - became infected. Tests are being carried out by the Liberian government and international health agencies.

The European Union on Monday approved €1.15 billion (S$1.7 billion) in aid for West Africa through to 2020, nearly doubling its previous commitment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline 'WHO's Ebola response 'a failure''. Print Edition | Subscribe