In the Daily Observer's Editorial on Thursday, September 25, 2014 we wondered why it took the World Health Organization (WHO) a full six months to respond in a serious way to the Ebola crisis.
We quickly clarified that we were in no way criticizing WHO, but were perplexed at its lassitude in responding to the outbreak of what it knew to be one of the most virulent diseases known to man, which had decimated populations in the Congo and was now raging through the Mano River Basin states, especially Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
We recalled that the WHO's Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, was not new to major disease outbreaks. While serving as Director of Health in her native Hong Kong, we recalled, she confronted the first human outbreak of H5NI avian influenza in 1997 and defeated it. She also successfully held back the spate of severe acute Respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong in 2003; and launched new services to enhance disease prevention and promote better health.
These successes MUST have been included on her resume when she ran for the lofty position of WHO Director General. The WHO electors must have been highly impressed with these credentials, and knew that by electing this accomplished woman, the health of the world could not have been placed in better hands.
Alas! Evidence has emerged suggesting that there are concerns "inside the World Health Organization that it failed to respond adequately to the outbreak earlier this year." The Associated Press says it has obtained an internal draft document in which WHO officials acknowledge 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," says AP, quoting the document. The memo blames a lack of information, and incompetent staff. Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF) warned last April that the spread of Ebola in West Africa was unprecedented and becoming uncontrollable, " a position rejected at the time by the WHO," according to reports.
The latest figures issued by the WHO on Friday put the number of deaths from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia at 4,546, with cases of infection numbering 9,191. The majority of deaths are Liberian, over 2,500.
How does Director General Chan respond to this? She is the head of WHO. The Governing Body of WHO must ask the organization's leadership some very serious questions, for it is because of their negligence that 4,546 have died–but not only that: the economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been devastatingly disrupted, catapulting their respective Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) to almost zero.
The stigmatizing of these country's citizens and residents is another very serious problem. It has caused great harm not only to the three countries, but to Africa as a whole; not to speak of the great economic disruption the Ebola crisis has caused in the entire African continent. Can WHO imagine the great losses its negligence has caused so many business sectors, including agriculture?
The various international airlines, including British Airways, Brussels Airlines, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, to name a few, have also been hard hit.
In addition, so many nations around the world have announced their territories off-limits to anyone traveling from these countries, citizens and non-citizens alike. Last week, a young Liberian woman spent three days and three nights without food or water at Nairobi's Kenyatta International Airport, where she had to sleep on the floor.
What is the WHO's Governing Body's response to all this. Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread and in its wake, leaving thousands of orphans in the three countries.
We fail to see how Dr. Chan can still call herself WHO Director General. She should seriously consider the most honorable option available to her.