Pushed to the Limit: Médecins Sans Frontières slams the World Health Organisation’s response to Ebola

Last month, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released Pushed to the Limit and Beyond, a critical analysis of the management of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa over the last year. The report highlights global inaction and the subsequent battles MSF have faced.

A notable inclusion is the reproach of the World Health Organisation for its reluctance to declare an emergency. Their inaction delayed a collaborative response, resulting in a prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and misinformation among the public that, in turn, exacerbated the spread of the virus.

Since March 2014, MSF have placed 2225 staff in the Ebola-affected regions of Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This has resulted in the construction of seven Ebola case management centres (CMCs) and approximately 8350 admissions. CMCs were initially functioning with insufficient human resources, minimal support from local authorities and without a cure for the disease.

And, yet, another four months passed before the leading UN agency for global public health began referring to the Ebola outbreak as “serious”.

MSF General Director, Christopher Stokes, states that the WHO’s leadership and coordination should have been consistent from March 2014. Ultimately, the “WHO should have been fighting the virus, not MSF.” Their inaction resulted in MSF abandoning its traditional avoidance of political and security involvement to appeal to the UN Security Council.

Finally, in September 2014, the United Nations established its first health emergency mission: UNMEER (United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response).

The Ebola epidemic has been a wake up call to the clear flaws in our global public health emergency response. On the 19th of April 2015, Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, admitted, “…when faced with an emergency of this scale, our current systems — national and international — simply have not coped”.

We cannot determine whether more efficient action by the WHO would have resulted in the containment of the virus within 12 months. However, we now know reforms within the WHO need to occur to ensure a more proactive response to health emergencies.

It is their responsibility to take the lead and ensure that insufficient public health management does not contribute to extensive loss of life again.

As of the 22nd of April 2015, approximately 10,808 people have died from the Ebola epidemic.

Pushed to the Limit and Beyond is dedicated to the 14 MSF workers who lost their lives fighting the Ebola virus. The report can be accessed via the following link: http://www.msf.org/article/ebola-pushed-limit-and-beyond.