WHO chief announces shake-up of organisation after Ebola crisis

Published May 19, 2015
Geneva: World Health Organisation Director-General Margaret Chan greets the audience under the logo of the specialised agency of the United Nations after she addressed the WHO general assembly on Monday.—AFP
Geneva: World Health Organisation Director-General Margaret Chan greets the audience under the logo of the specialised agency of the United Nations after she addressed the WHO general assembly on Monday.—AFP

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation will dramatically reform its emergency response operations this year, its chief said on Monday, after the UN agency faced blistering criticism for its slow Ebola response.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan told the agency’s decision-making body in Geneva that she had decided to make some “fundamental changes” to help the organisation respond more quickly and efficiently in times of crisis.

“I do not ever again want to see this organisation faced with a situation it is not prepared, staffed, funded or administratively set up to manage,” Chan told some 3,000 delegates from 180 countries gathered for the annual World Health Assembly.

WHO has faced a barrage of criticism for responding far too slowly to the west African Ebola outbreak, which since it began in late December 2013 has infected nearly 26,800 people and killed more than 11,000 of them.

“The world was ill-prepared to respond to an outbreak that was so widespread, so severe, so sustained and so complex,” Chan said.

She acknowledged that WHO had been “overwhelmed” by the outbreak, which had placed demands on the organisation that were “more than 10 times greater than ever experienced in (its) 70-year history. “WHO today has nearly 1,000 staff on the ground in Ebola-ravaged Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Chan said WHO staff would remain in the three countries “until the job, including the recovery of (their devastated) essential health services, is done”.

To ensure that the agency will be better prepared next time disaster strikes, Chan said she had called for the creation of a $100-million contingency fund, “financed by flexible voluntary contributions”, to ensure money will be available to respond immediately.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2015

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