Ebola Outbreak Response Leads to WHO Reforms
The head of the World Health Organization acknowledged that the group struggled to confront the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and she unveiled a set of reforms aimed at improving the agency’s response to large-scale medical disasters.
The most deadly Ebola outbreak in history has killed more than 8,600 people, most of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. It also exposed cracks in global response mechanisms.
“This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director General Margaret Chan. “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”
Chan’s reforms include a stronger team of epidemiologists for detecting diseases, emergency responders trained with military precision, and a better network of providers that allows responders to reach “surge capacity.”
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Although the numbers of reported Ebola infection rates have been falling in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea , a senior official with an international humanitarian organization said Guinea’s figures could be underreported.
“Our information and our interpretation of the numbers, based both on field realities and what we hear from other sources, is that the declines are definitely real in Liberia. They’re probably real in Sierra Leone and they’re very uncertain as to their meaning in Guinea,” said Emmanuel d’Harcourt, senior health director with the International Rescue Committee.
In the same Jan. 27 article on the Voice of America website, d’Harcourt said the numbers could be sketchy because people distrust the government and international relief organizations.
“The whole epidemic in the three countries really flared up because the international community and WHO, and Doctors Without Borders declared the epidemic over because there were no infections for 21 days,” d’Harcourt said. “And in fact what was happening was not that there weren’t cases, but that they were being hidden, and the same dynamic that caused that epidemic to burn underground without being reported is still in place.”
While d’Harcourt believes the drop in reported Ebola infections can be traced to underreporting, multiple media outlets reported that some scientists are wondering if the virus is “asymptomatic,” meaning it’s immunizing some people who have been exposed while killing others.
“We wonder whether ‘herd immunity’ is secretly coming up — when you get a critical mass of people who are protected, because if they are asymptomatic they are then immune,” said Philippe Maughan, senior operations administrator for the humanitarian branch of the European Commission. “The virus may be bumping into people it can’t infect any more.”