Health chiefs admit to losing control of Ebola
The World Health Organization has admitted that it botched attempts to stop the now-spiraling Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.
"Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall," WHO said in a draft internal document obtained by reporters, noting that experts should have realised that traditional containment methods wouldn't work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems.
The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO 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.
Dr Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, agreed in an interview that WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office.
"It's the regional office in Africa that's the frontline," he said. "And they didn't do anything. That office is really not competent."
Piot also questioned why it took WHO five months and 1,000 deaths before the agency declared Ebola an international health emergency in August.
"I called for a state of emergency to be declared in July," he said. But he said WHO might have been scarred by its experience during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, when it was slammed for hyping the situation.
In late April, during a teleconference on Ebola among infectious disease experts that included WHO, Doctors Without Borders and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, questions were apparently raised about the performance of WHO experts, as not all of them bothered to send Ebola reports to WHO headquarters.
WHO said it was "particularly alarming" that the head of its Guinea office refused to help get visas for an expert Ebola team to come in and $500,000 in aid was blocked by administrative hurdles. Guinea, along with Sierra Leone and Liberia, is one of the hardest-hit nations in the current outbreak, with 843 deaths so far blamed on Ebola.
The Ebola outbreak already has killed 4,484 people in West Africa and WHO has said within two months, there could be new 10,000 cases of Ebola every week.