WHO Needs to Strengthen National Health Systems, Regulations After Ebola Failure

by Julia Samuel on May 8 2015 5:06 PM

WHO Needs to Strengthen National Health Systems, Regulations After Ebola Failure
Analysts have called for sweeping reforms and a doubling of its budget to prevent ’needless’ deaths in future after the West African Ebola outbreak highlighted leadership failings of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Researchers from //the Washington-based O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law said the UN’s health organ urgently needed an injection of cash and expertise to boost its capacity and credibility.

"Action now on WHO and other reforms to the global health system is crucial, before the political moment passes," said, Lawrence Gostin and Eric Friedman.

They called for the body’s 2014-15 budget of less than $4 billion (3.5 billion euros) to be doubled over five years, to allow it to attract and retain expert personnel. They also proposed the creation of a separate contingency fund ready to be tapped into as soon as the next epidemic is identified.

"Inadequate epidemic preparedness funding has been and will continue to be, unwise," said the paper.

Earlier, the WHO said the Ebola death toll in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea now topped 11,000 -- almost half of the more than 26,500 people infected in the worst outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus ever recorded.

In May 2011, the WHO saw its budget slashed by $500 million, the loss of 300 headquarter jobs and nearly two-thirds of its emergency response unit staff, wrote Gostin and Friedman.

The Regional Office for Africa lost nine of its 12 emergency response specialists.

All of this contributed to the WHO failing in its core function of leading and coordinating the global response to Ebola, wrote the duo, further hamstrung by "deficiencies" in international health regulations created to prevent cross-border disease spread.

"Heath workers and funding needed immediately instead arrived slowly and unpredictably," and the epidemic "needlessly took more than 10,000 lives in one of the world’s poorest regions."

The WHO declared a "public health emergency of international concern" on August 8 - weeks after the volunteer group Doctors Without Borders said on June 21 that Ebola was "out of control" and required a "massive deployment of resources," according to the study.

Unless things changed drastically, the world would be just as ill-prepared for the next epidemic, said Gostin and Friedman -- calling for an "empowered" WHO coupled with a strengthening of national health systems and regulations.