WHO isn’t the only one to blame — We’re reading about lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak

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NewWWRWho’s to blame? – While much of the global health community criticized the World Health Organization’s handling of the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014, the health organization may not have mishandled the initial response to the outbreak after all, when taking into account the response to previous outbreaks. This paper from Third World Quarterly examines the WHO’s constitutional obligations and customary practices to address public health emergencies of international concern, and suggests that the organization’s internal culture and structural constraints as well as budget constraints contributed to dysfunction around the Ebola outbreak response.  Adam Kamradt-Scott, the paper’s author, also posits some of the blame should rest with WHO member states, stating that “some culpability must also be accepted by member states for their past opposition to the international organization assuming a more proactive, interventionist role.” He writes that member states have finally accepted a four-year-old proposal to establish a $100 million contingency fund which will strengthen global health security capacities, but that comes a little too late for the tens of thousands affected by Ebola in West Africa.

Seven lessons from a devastating epidemic – This Nature article suggests that the Ebola epidemic has brought to light a shift in the balance of power in global health, with the World Health Organization’s failure to adequately address the outbreak allowing non-governmental organizations to lead the response and shoulder much of the burden. The article also lists several other lessons learned from the West African Ebola outbreak, including that while West Africa’s medical infrastructure is extremely weak, beating Ebola required officials to understand local culture and let the region’s leaders lead. The most important lesson learned, however, is that the outbreak isn’t over yet, and that’s further demonstrated by the fact that this article was published the day the WHO announced the end of the outbreak only to announce a death from Ebola in Sierra Leone, the next day.

UK should have heeded M​SF warnings on Ebola, MPs say – The UK’s over-reliance on the WHO and the expectation that the WHO would take action quickly to respond to the Ebola outbreak contributed to the UK’s slow response, a group of parliamentarians said in a new report. The UK government should have listened to Medicins Sans Frontiere’s, which sounded alarms about the outbreak two months before the WHO did, instead of relying on the WHO, the parliamentarians said. The report also “stresses the importance of strengthening weak health systems and doing more to engage communities to win trust and halt the spread of infectious diseases,” as well as points out the benefits of rapid funding disbursements: “one doctor said that, had DfID provided him with the £7,500 he repeatedly asked for in June 2014 for eight isolation units, the money would have had the impact of “hundreds of thousands of pounds later on.””

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