18 Oct 2014

WHO slow to respond to Ebola - report

12:37 pm on 18 October 2014

An internal World Health Organisation (WHO) document has blamed the agency for botching efforts to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa, saying it was too slow to act.

A health worker sits at MSF's Ebola treatment centre inside the Samuel K Doe stadium in Monrovia, Liberia.

Medical charity MSF says it is "ridiculous" its volunteers are still providing most care in the worst-affected countries. Photo: AFP

The Associated Press (AP) said it had obtained an internal draft document in which WHO officials acknowledged failing to appreciate the seriousness of the situation as the number of cases grew.

"Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall," the document said, according to the AP.

The memo blamed a lack of information, and incompetent staff.

Last April, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was unprecedented and becoming out of control, the BBC reported - a position rejected at the time by the WHO.

The WHO admitted in August that it may have under-estimated the situation.

The latest figures, issued by the WHO on Friday, put the number of deaths from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia at 4546, with cases of infection numbering 9191.

Aid not yet having effect

Separately, MSF has said that recent pledges of help and deployments of personnel have not yet had any impact on the epidemic.

Christopher Stokes, who is leading MSF's Ebola response, said the disease was still out of control.

He said it was "ridiculous" that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1000 beds available in treatment facilities in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The BBC's Mark Doyle, in Ghana, said it was generally agreed that at least three times that number are needed.

More funds needed - UN

Donors have given almost US$400 million to UN agencies and aid organisations, following an appeal launched in September.

Separately, the UN is seeking US$1 billion for an Ebola trust fund, to provide a flexible source of back-up money to contain the crisis.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday made another urgent appeal, saying the trust fund had received only US$100,000 - from Colombia - though US$20 million had been pledged.

He said more funds were urgently needed to meet the target of reducing the transmission rate by December.

The UN's special envoy on Ebola, Dr David Nabarro, said foreign governments have struggled to understand the urgency of the situation.

"Money in now, people in now, will help to get this quickly under control and will reduce the number of people who die and who suffer in an extraordinary way. It's that sense of urgency that's with us all the time."

Meanwhile, the WHO has announced that Senegal is now officially free of Ebola, as it has gone 42 days without any sign of the virus.

There was one confirmed case of Ebola in the country, in late August, and the patient survived.

Food prices rising

Reuters reported that food prices have risen by an average of 24 percent across the three countries in West Africa worst hit by Ebola.

The World Food Programme said aid workers were scrambling to distribute emergency rations.

It said Ebola infection rates in the food-producing regions of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were very high and hundreds of farmers had died.

The body said harvesting and planting had been disrupted and the problem will only get worse.

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