Aid Workers Ask Where Was WHO In Ebola Outbreak?

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

From Reuters

In the first days of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, as aid workers and health authorities battled to contain the deadly virus, Mariano Lugli asked himself a simple question: where was the World Health Organization?

Lugli, an Italian nurse, was among the first responders from medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to reach the remote forests of Guinea in March where the hemorrhagic fever – one of the most lethal diseases known to man – was detected.

When the epidemic spread to the capital Conakry, Lugli set up a second Ebola clinic there. He encountered a foreign medic and a logistician sent by the U.N. health agency but saw no sign of a WHO official in charge of handling the escalating outbreak.

“In all the meetings I attended, even in Conakry, I never saw a representative of the WHO,” said Lugli, deputy director of operations for MSF Switzerland. “The coordination role that WHO should be playing, we just didn’t see it. I didn’t see it the first three weeks and we didn’t see it afterwards.”

The worst outbreak of Ebola on record has killed more than 3,400 people in four West African countries and spread to the United States, where the first case was confirmed in Dallas this week.

After a dire warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) that the virus could infect up to 1.4 million people, many health professionals and politicians are asking how the crisis got so badly out of hand. In the past 40 years, Ebola had killed just 1,500 people in sporadic outbreaks in Africa.

Some aid workers and U.N. officials blame a lack of WHO leadership in the emergency response, particularly in the early stages when it would have been easier to contain. On several occasions, WHO officials played down the outbreak, they say.

MSF International President Joanne Liu, who warned that her organization could not cope with the rising number of Ebola victims, has accused the WHO of failing its mandate to help member states cope with health emergencies.

Read more at Reuters