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WHO emergency response ‘lacking’ – UN

Professor David L. Heymann, chair of the Emergency Committee of the WHO, at a press conference after the first meeting about Zika virus at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 1 February, 2016. WHO is under fire for its slow response to Ebola. EPA/Salvatore Di Nolfi

Professor David L. Heymann, chair of the Emergency Committee of the WHO, at a press conference after the first meeting about Zika virus at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 1 February, 2016. WHO is under fire for its slow response to Ebola. EPA/Salvatore Di Nolfi

LONDON –  [RAW] A high-level United Nations report on health crises claims the World Health Organisation’s emergency response capability is lacking and will put thousands of lives at risk unless it’s reformed.

‘This may be the last opportunity to ensure the WHO is empowered’ to build an effective emergency response capacity, warned an advance, unedited copy of the UN panel’s report.

‘The high risk of major health crises is widely underestimated and … the world’s preparedness and capacity to respond is woefully insufficient,’ the panel, convened in the wake of the Ebola crisis, said in its report.

‘If the WHO does not successfully reform, the next major pandemic will cause thousands of otherwise preventable deaths.’

The UN report, entitled ‘Protecting Humanity from Future Health Crises’, is the latest in a series of reviews by global health experts which have been sharply critical of the WHO’s response to the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

With all eyes now focused on the response to the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been reported in 33 countries and is linked to birth defects, the agency is under even more scrutiny.

WHO chiefs have previously promised to act swiftly on reforming the agency’s emergency responses.

It was not immediately clear when the final report will be published.

The Ebola outbreak, which began in Guinea and spread from there to infect thousands across Liberia and Sierra Leone, killed more than 11,300 people.

The UN panel’s key recommendation was for the WHO to build a new Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, which ‘must have real command and control capability, access to specialised human and operational resources to execute a health response’.

It also said all countries must meet the full obligations of international health regulations which, among other things, set rules on how and when to report disease outbreaks.


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