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Mar 20, 2015 10:55 AM

5 key findings from AP's story on WHO and the Ebola outbreak

The Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) In the aftermath of the world's biggest outbreak of Ebola, the World Health Organization acknowledged it was too slow to act, blaming factors including a lack of real-time information and the unprecedented nature of the epidemic.

But an investigation by The Associated Press has revealed the U.N. health agency knew from the start how unusual the outbreak was. Here are five key findings about WHO's response to Ebola in West Africa:

1. WHO officials privately floated the idea of declaring an international health emergency in early June, more than a month before the agency maintains it got its first sign the outbreak merited one in late July and two months before the declaration was finally made on August 8, 2014.

2. WHO blamed its slow response partly on a lack of real-time information and the surprising characteristics of the epidemic. In fact it had accurate field reports including scientists asking for backup and it identified the unprecedented features of the outbreak. The agency was also hobbled by a shortage of funds and a lack of clear leadership over its country and regional offices.

3. Politics appear to have clouded WHO's willingness to declare an international emergency. Internal emails and documents suggest the U.N. health agency was afraid of provoking conflict with the Ebola-stricken countries and wary that a declaration could interfere with the economy and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

4. An Ebola-infected WHO consultant in Sierra Leone violated WHO health protocols, creating a rift with Doctors Without Borders that was only resolved when WHO was thrown out of a shared hotel.

5. Despite WHO's pledges to reform, many of the proposed changes are recycled suggestions from previous outbreaks that have never taken hold. Any meaningful reform to the organization would likely require countries to rewrite the constitution, a prospect many find unpalatable.


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