If the World Health Organization (WHO) is to better protect humanity from major epidemics, it will have to change fundamentally. That is the conclusion of an independent panel charged with assessing WHO's handling of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed more than 11,000 people. The report, issued today, is highly critical of some aspects of WHO’s response and makes wide-ranging recommendations on reforming the organization’s structure and decision-making processes, including the proposal to establish a new Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response within WHO.
But the report also concludes that WHO needs more power, more money, and more support from member states to fulfill its role. "I think this is a frank and important report," says Preben Aavitsland, a Norwegian epidemiologist who helped craft the International Health Regulations (IHR), a 2005 treaty that lays down what powers WHO has in an international health crisis. "The authors are not afraid of making bold proposals.“
Founded in 1948 as an agency of the United Nations, WHO aims for “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” But there is wide agreement that it bungled its response to the Ebola outbreak last year. In March, an independent six-member panel led by Dame Barbara Stocking, the former chief executive of Oxfam in the United Kingdom, was appointed to look at what went wrong and what should be changed. Panel members interviewed WHO sources and outside experts, met with representatives of numerous relief organizations, and flew to the affected countries in West Africa.
In the report, the panel faults WHO for several problems, most notably for “significant und unjustifiable delays” in declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). WHO didn't label the epidemic a PHEIC—a formal acknowledgement of its threat to global health—until...Continue Reading »