A panel reviewing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa says WHO “must re-establish its pre-eminence as the guardian of global public health.” The epidemic began in December 2013, resulting in more than 11,000 deaths. Dean Julio Frenk is one of six members on the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel—a group of independent experts that has issued a report outlining how WHO can better respond to future infectious disease crises.
In its report, the Panel recommended changes at all levels of WHO, writing that the Ebola crisis highlighted operational failures in the organization. The Panel also noted that there are shortcomings in the International Health Regulations (IHR), a legal framework that is binding on 196 nations. The regulations require nations to report infectious disease outbreaks and establish a number of procedures that WHO must follow in its work to uphold global public health security by preventing, protecting against, and responding to global disease spread.
The Panel stated that if recommendations for strengthening the IHR had been made following the H1N1 crisis in 2009, the global community would have been far better positioned to manage the Ebola crisis.
The report also called on WHO to develop an organizational culture that accepts its role in emergency preparedness and response.
Among the changes being recommended by the Panel:
- Strengthen the IHR.
- Increase funding from member countries specifically earmarked for infectious disease outbreak response.
- Establish a WHO Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response.
- Adjust in-country staffing levels to ensure the highest level of support is provided for the most vulnerable nations.
- Improve communication with the broader humanitarian system to facilitate better interagency cooperation.
In its response to the Panel’s report, WHO officials said they are already implementing some of the recommendations and will convene a committee to review the IHR.