WHO delayed declaring Ebola emergency due to politics

Discussion in 'News / Current Events' started by Revmitchell, Mar 20, 2015.

  1. Revmitchell

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    Feb 18, 2006
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    GENEVA – By early June of last year, the Ebola epidemic centered on Guinea was the deadliest ever recorded. Foreign workers were being evacuated. Top disease-fighters warned that the virus could soon spread across West Africa.

    But the World Health Organization resisted sounding the alarm until August, partly for political reasons, despite the fact that senior staff in Africa proposed doing so in June, The Associated Press has found. The two-month delay, some argue, may have cost lives. More than 10,000 are believed to have been killed by the virus since WHO first announced the outbreak a year ago.

    WHO has acknowledged acting too slowly to control the Ebola epidemic. In its defense, the agency says the virus's spread was unprecedented and blames several factors, including lack of resources and intelligence from the field. Internal documents obtained by AP, however, show WHO's top leaders were informed of how dire the situation was. But they held off on declaring an emergency in part because it could have angered the countries involved, interfered with their mining interests or restricted the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in October.

    Declaring an emergency was "a last resort," Dr. Sylvie Briand, who runs WHO's pandemic and epidemic diseases department, said in a June 5 email to a colleague who floated the idea. "It may be more efficient to use other diplomatic means for now."

    Five days after Briand's email, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan was sent a memo that warned cases might soon appear in Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau. But it went on to say that declaring an international emergency or even convening a committee to discuss it "could be seen as a hostile act."

    Critics and former WHO staff dismiss that reasoning.

    "That's like saying you don't want to call the fire department because you're afraid the trucks will create a disturbance," said Michael Osterholm, a prominent infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.


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