A panel of global health experts has strongly criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for their failure to sound the alarm about the Ebola virus until months into the outbreak. According to the experts, the error was an “egregious failure” that led to the massive suffering and death toll. The Ebola epidemic has led to over 11,300 deaths in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia from more than 28,000 Ebola cases.
The Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in December of 2013. The first cases were recorded in Guinea in March 2014 and spread across the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia to start the largest and most prolific Ebola outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976. The WHO officially declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in August of 2014.
A specialist panel on Ebola was assembled from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTMI) and Harvard’s Global Health Institute (HGHI). The panel’s recommendations were featured in a report published in the journal The Lancet and released online November 22.
“People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring…and yet, it took until August to declare a public health emergency. The cost of the delay was enormous,” explained panelist and report author Ashish K. Jha, a director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The report featured 19 public and global health and Ebola experts who come from humanitarian agencies, the legal profession, think tanks, and academia. The authors believe the Ebola outbreak has led to outstanding circumstances of solidarity and courage, but it has also led to chaos, fear, and immense human suffering.
The detailed report outlined 10 recommendations for infectious disease outbreak prevention and handling methods. The suggestions include the establishment of a global fund to help develop outbreak drugs and treatment, the creation of a U.N. Security Council health committee geared toward health issues, publishing of a list of countries that delay sharing information on global health issues, and the creation of a dedicated center for outbreak response.
The findings from the panel come a day after Liberia’s health ministry announced three new Ebola cases, despite Liberia being Ebola-free in September. The WHO had declared Liberia Ebola-free in May and most recently on September 3.
The first new Ebola case involves 15-year-old Nathan Gbotoe. He hails from a suburb called Paynesville, east of Monrovia. It has since been confirmed that the other members of Gbotoe’s family have tested positive for the Ebola virus. All three patients were hospitalized. Liberia has placed 153 people under surveillance to help control a potential new outbreak of the virus. Liberia has suffered the highest death toll with over 4,800 Ebola-related deaths.
It is currently not known how Gbotoe became infected with the virus. Cross-border transmission is likely not the cause of the infection since Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free on November 7 after 42 days without a case. Also, Guinea currently does not have a case of Ebola in the country. The previous Ebola outbreak in Liberia may have been caused by sexual transmission since the virus can remain dormant in a man’s semen six to nine months after he is infected. It is also believed that an infected animal, like a bat, may trigger a fresh outbreak of Ebola.
Health officials from Paynesville went from house to house on Saturday to deliver water and food to the neighbors of the infected family who were deemed at risk of the Ebola virus.
“We’ve had big outbreaks before and even careful reviews after, but often the world gets distracted,” added Jha. “We owe it to the more than 11,000 people who died in West Africa to see that doesn’t happen this time.”
Sources for Today’s Article:
Kelland, K., “Global health experts accuse WHO of ‘egregious failure’ on Ebola,” Reuters web site, November 22, 2015; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/22/us-health-ebola-response-idUSKBN0TB10K20151122#y624yel2G7EwqMUZ.97.
Harding Giahyue, J., “Liberia monitors over 150 Ebola contacts as virus re-emerges,” Reuters web site, November 22, 2015; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/22/us-health-ebola-liberia-idUSKBN0TB0GV20151122#vsyFutI00jXmbCSk.97.
Ap, T., “Ebola crisis” WHO slammed by Harvard-convened panel over slow response,” CNN web site, last updated November 23, 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/23/africa/ebola-lancet-report/, last accessed November 23, 2015.
Moon, S., et al., “Will Ebola change the game? Ten essential reforms before the next pandemic. The report of the Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola,” The Lancet, 2015; doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00946-0.