More than 500 healthcare staff are among the over 11,200 people killed in West Africa by the worst recorded outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, which erupted in Guinea in December 2013 and continues to claim lives. As the Associated Press reports, some members of the public health community involved were disappointed that individuals were not called out by name and that the agency was already focusing on lessons learned, when the outbreak is still ongoing.
But the panel emphasized that the new division, which they called the WHO Centre for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response, must not just duplicate and merge the outbreak and humanitarian work the organization is now responsible for. Also, she noted that humanitarian groups are used to working with the UN’s existing health cluster system.
In August, the Director-General will convene a Review Committee of the worldwide Health Regulations, where Member States can discuss the recommendations of the panel, including the idea of establishing an intermediate level of alert to sound an alarm earlier than a full Public Health Emergency of worldwide Concern.
Had they been, “the global community would have been in a far better position to face the Ebola crisis”, the panel said.
In its report, the panel said the Ebola crisis revealed that many member states haven’t implemented required core capacities as outlined in the IHRs, especially regarding surveillance, and that almost a quarter of the countries violated the regulations by instituting travel bans and other measures that interfered with the response.
The panel tasked to review the World Health Organization’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak released its interim report ahead of the 68th World Health Assembly, which kicks off next week.
“The panel firmly believes that this is a defining moment not only for WHO and the global health emergency response, but also for the governance of the entire global health system”.
“The world simply can not afford another period of inaction until the next health crisis”.
Funding for emergency response was also found to be “lacking”, and the panel recommended that further investments be made with “vigour”. This would be vital to ensure WHO’s robust response, and pave the way for country and regional directors to openly “step aside”, if need be, during emergencies.
A prime example would be when the WHO finally Ebola a global public health emergency, five months after the outbreak.
Even had there been a “pretty serious team” in place, she said, those staffers reported to the African office rather than to headquarters in Geneva, creating delays. Passengers who ply the city-provincial roads are still being tormented by the frequent thermometer tests at the Ebola checkpoints, apart from the inconvenience of having to climb down and up the vehicles on several occasions for the thermo-test and chlorination of their hands at the series of Ebola checkpoints along the roads.
In the lead-up to a major fundraising conference for Ebola recovery, the WHO described rebuilding of the national health systems in West Africa as a critical priority.
The new division would be based on the WHO’s separate humanitarian and outbreak areas, but a “simple merger will not suffice – it will need new organizational structures and procedures”.