After Ebola, WHO blames governments and seeks more clout

By Tom Miles, Reuters

Posted at Jan 13 2015 06:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 13 2015 02:51 PM

GENEVA - The World Health Organization says governments flouted their obligations during the Ebola crisis and wants more power to tackle health emergencies in future, documents published by the international agency showed on Monday.

The Geneva-based U.N. health organisation has been heavily criticised for its slow response to the Ebola epidemic, which has now killed at least 8,371 people out of more than 21,000 cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The WHO promised in October to publish a full review of its handling of the outbreak once the epidemic was under control.

But it has not yet done so.

The documents submitted to its 34-nation Executive Board said governments had put International Health Regulations that cover public health risks and disease outbreaks at risk through actions such as closing borders and discriminating against travellers from Ebola-affected countries.

Nor did a "sizable number" of states did not yet have the minimum standards in core areas such as surveillance, preparedness and risk communication, the documents said.

In a second document to its Executive Board, the WHO said it should be restructured and given more power to tackle health emergencies better.

As well as disease outbreaks, crises such as war in Syria, drought in the Horn of Africa and a typhoon in the Philippines had all exposed problems.

"In each case, the response lacked the speed, coordination, clear lines of decision making and dedicated funding needed to optimize implementation, reduce suffering and save lives."

The WHO said it was structured to deal with technical issues and public health recommendations but ill-equipped to jump into action for an emergency, as it is increasingly expected to do.

Its recommendations included expanding its mandate and setting up teams of rapidly deployable experts and systems for managing funds and information. (Editing by Louise Ireland)