In response to West African Ebola epidemics, a panel of health experts are calling for changes on how the disease threats are treated and managed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The panel of experts, from the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, proposed ten changes, from expanding the possibilities of an epidemic response beyond the WHO, to creating economic incentives for countries to report the outbreaks, instead of hiding them.
Experts believe that international response to these outbreaks is delayed and problematic, resulting in deaths, suffering and economic and social issues. They also stated that this results in a loss of confidence in both national and international institutions, as they wrote on their paper.
The panel encouraged countries to build stronger outbreak detection and response mechanisms, and also creating a tracking process. Additionally, they said that the WHO should publish the countries that delay in reporting the outbreak, or those who take measures that aren’t sustained by scientific justifications. They believe that creating a new global health committee within the UN Security Council would put these issues on the radar.
These recommendations, they said, are aiming to counteract institutional and systemic problems, such as lack of investment, poor accountability and political actions that lead these outbreaks out of control in most countries.
“This epidemic has really exposed the fault lines in national and international systems,” said Peter Piot, director of the LSHTM and chair of the panel, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Piot believes that Ebola could be a “game-changer” like HIV/AIDS, which made scientists and activists come together to think about a solution. He also added that most of these changes aren’t difficult or expensive to implement, but there are others that would require political leadership.
However, the WHO announced that they are reviewing these, and other recommendations. They said that some of these recommendations were already implemented, including some steps promoted by the WHO in 2015. Moreover, they stated that it is good to see these key thoughts aligned with most of the experts, although some will need further discussion.
The Ebola epidemic is far from over yet, as three people were diagnosed with it last week in Liberia -a country that has been declared ebola-free twice. Health officials say that they haven’t found the source of the outbreak, yet. They reported that the virus remains persistent in semen and other bodily fluids, causing new infections in a few cases.
David Nabarro, the UN special envoy on Ebola, stated that many of these recommendations reflect concerns that he and many people share, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nevertheless, he warned about those recommendations suggesting to remove some of the WHO’s authority, since many of these would require creating a whole new independent committee.
The panel also made a call for the WHO’s activities to scale down, so they could focus on their core functions, creating a new financing model that ensures funding for the work. They believe that WHO membership keeps throwing more responsibilities to the WHO while other contributions remain static. Dr. Nabarro concluded that this is the most important recommendation of all, as he will wait for the WHO’s response, along with the panel.
Source: Journal The Lancet