WHO Internal Report Admits Failure in Ebola Response
October 20, 2014 • 10:33AM

A World Health Organization (WHO) internal report leaked to Associated Press details failures at the UN agency to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The report, according to AP, concluded that "Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall." The document, according to news accounts, singled out Dr. Luis Sambo, head of the WHO regional office for Africa, for appointing country directors as political patronage, and for failing to respond to early warnings of the outbreak.

See: Developing Story: Ebola Arrives In A U.S. That's Totally Unprepared

Dr. Peter Piot, who co-discovered Ebola and heads a major infectious disease research institute in the UK, confirmed that WHO acted far too slowly, and concurred on the failures in the Africa regional office. "I called for a state of emergency to be declared in July," Dr. Piot told AP, "but it was rejected." The head of the WHO office in Guinea refused to cooperate in obtaining special travel visas for an expert Ebola team that wanted to travel to the country in the spring.

As early as April, Doctors Without Borders issued a warning of an Ebola outbreak, and WHO officials publicly disputed the claim, saying that the few cases reported were under control. In June, at a meeting of WHO experts on Ebola, Dr. Bruce Aylward warned WHO Director Margaret Chan about the failures of the WHO West Africa offices, which were "compromising rather than aiding" the effort to stop the early spread.

Dr. Michael Osterholm went one step further, arguing that the WHO failures were compounded by other failures among health care professionals who failed to see the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak. "There were a lot of mistakes made by WHO but a lot of the best public health minds would have thought we could handle this in July. By the time we realized how bad things were, the genie was already out of the bottle. If we fault WHO for the early dropping of the ball, the whole world has dropped the ball in some sense. Nobody is to blame because everybody is to blame."

Dr. Osterholm has warned that the focus of international efforts must remain on West Africa, and he has called for an international Manhattan Project to develop a vaccine for Ebola. Canada has been doing work on an Ebola vaccine that is now in clinical trials in the United States, scheduled to be completed in December. The first 800 doses of the Canadian vaccine are being shipped to Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday to the WHO headquarters, where the vaccines will be dispatched to West Africa. A team from the University of Maryland is now in Mali testing another anti-Ebola vaccine, which is reportedly similar to vaccines being developed and tested by the Russians. All this underscores the need for an international top-down coordinated effort to develop a vaccine and a cure as fast as possible. So far, major pharmaceutical companies have done little or nothing in terms of work on Ebola treatment medicines—because they are strictly driven by profit motives.