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WHO MULLS STRUCTURAL REFORMS IN THE WAKE OF EBOLA RESPONSE

January 12, 2015 | Uhuruspirit

The World Health Organization (WHO)



Geneva - The World Health Organization's (WHO) complicated bureaucracy and weak operational capacity have hampered its efforts to deal with the Ebola outbreak, the UN agency said in a critical report made public on Monday that offered several reform proposals.

Expert commentators and the media have criticized the UN health agency for having responded too slowly and for having declared the Ebola epidemic a global health emergency only in August, some seven months and nearly 1,000 deaths into the outbreak.

The international community expects that WHO can respond quickly and fully to major health emergencies, the document said.

"Today, WHO has the essential institutional experience and country presence needed, but is not designed or capacitated to fulfil this function. To rectify this, WHO must substantially strengthen and modernize its emergency management capacity," it said.

WHO has focused too much on technical work, such as providing expert support to health authorities and drawing up health guidelines, but not enough on emergency field work, the report found.

"These overarching emphases have resulted in a culture that resists embracing operations, an essential element of emergency response," it said.

While proven emergency management requires clear lines of command, WHO's response mechanism is spread out through various departments and units, it noted.

WHO's secretariat submitted its reform proposals to the WHO executive board, which meets from January 25 in Geneva.

The UN health body needs to boost its ability to run emergency operations; manage its human resources, health data and planning processes more flexibly and professionally; streamline its emergency response programme; and boost its non-medical expertise in areas such as logistics, crisis communication and anthropology.

Other proposals include building up a budget reserve for large emergencies and a better internal quality control system.

Some of these recommendations are not new to WHO, which has been led since 2007 by Director General Margaret Chan, a former Hong Kong health administration chief.

Following the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, an independent panel set up by WHO said in 2011 that "WHO should strengthen its internal capacity to respond to a sustained Public Health Emergency of International Concern."

In West Africa, at least 21,200 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and some 8,400 have died since the outbreak started in late 2013.

There have been also been a few cases in other African countries and a handful of patients treated in Western countries.

In the case of British nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who is being treated in London after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone, her condition is no longer critical, doctors said Monday.

The 39-year-old National Health Service volunteer was the first to be diagnosed with Ebola in Britain.

- dpa



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