Global health experts accuse WHO of 'egregious failure' on Ebola

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WHO Criticized For Massive Ebola Failure

LONDON (Reuters) -- The World Health Organization's failure to sound the alarm until months into West Africa's Ebola outbreak was an "egregious failure" which added to the enormous suffering and death toll, global health experts said on Monday.

A specialist panel convened by Harvard's Global Health Institute (HGHI) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said while the epidemic "engendered acts of outstanding courage and solidarity", it also caused "immense human suffering, fear and chaos" which went "largely unchecked" by leadership or reliable and rapid institutional responses.

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Reviewing the global response to the epidemic which swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the panel said such failures should not be allowed to happen again, and major reform is urgently needed to prevent future pandemics.

"We need to strengthen core capacities in all countries to detect, report and respond rapidly to small outbreaks in order to prevent them from becoming large-scale emergencies," said Peter Piot, LSHTM's director and the chair of the panel.

He said reform of national and global systems to respond to epidemics is not only feasible, but also essential "so that we do not witness such depths of suffering, death and social and economic havoc in future epidemics".

The panel made 10 key reform proposals aimed at preventing future such catastrophes, including developing and investing core capacities to handle infectious disease outbreaks, strengthening incentives for early reporting of outbreaks and science-based justifications for trade and travel restrictions.

It also called for the creation of a unified WHO Center with clear responsibility, adequate capacity, and strong lines of accountability for outbreak response, and for a transparent, politically-protected standing emergency committee to take on responsibility for declaring emergencies.

Liberian panel member Mosoka Fallah of the campaign group Action Contre La Faim International, said the human misery and deaths should prompt serious reflection "on how and why the global response to the greatest Ebola calamity in human history was late, feeble and uncoordinated".

The Ebola epidemic has killed at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since it began in December 2013. The crisis brought already weak health services to their knees and caused social and economic havoc.

Amid the Ebola crisis in Guinea:

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Global health experts accuse WHO of 'egregious failure' on Ebola
Photo taken on November 21, 2014 at the port of Conakry shows containers with donations, including vehicles and materials, from the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Britain and the Czech Republic to assist Guinea with the fight against Ebola. The outbreak, which has killed over 5,400 in west Africa and has ravaged countries like Guniea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been the deadliest so far. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Guinean Foreign Affairs Minister Francois Losseny Fall (C) walks past soldiers of the Dutch ship Karel Doorman at the port of Conakry on November 21, 2014, after the ship arrived with donations, including vehicles and materials, from the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Britain and the Czech Republic to assist Guinea with the fight against Ebola. The outbreak, which has killed over 5,400 in west Africa and has ravaged countries like Guniea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been the deadliest so far. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has his name written on his suit before leaving the red zone at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks in front of his house on November 20, 2014 in Macenta in Guinea. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman sits in front of a shelter on November 20, 2014 in Macenta in Guinea. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Guinean Foreign Affairs Minister Francois Losseny Fall (C-R) and Belgian Ambassador to Guinea Johan Verkammen (C) look at a truck donated by Belgium at the port of Conakry on November 21, 2014, after a Dutch ship arrived with donations, including vehicles and materials, from the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Britain and the Czech Republic to assist Guinea with the fight against Ebola. The outbreak, which has killed over 5,400 in west Africa and has ravaged countries like Guniea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been the deadliest so far. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on November 20, 2014 shows the Ebola treatment center run by the non-governmental international organization French red cross in Macenta in Guinea. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) assists a patient at the Ebola treatment center run by the French Red Cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk in a street of Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prepares before leaving the red zone at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prepare before leaving the red zone at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has his name written on his suit before leaving the red zone at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prepare before leaving the red zone at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) assists a patient at the Ebola treatment center run by the French Red Cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) works at the Ebola treatment center run by the French red cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) assists a patient at the Ebola treatment center run by the French Red Cross society in Macenta in Guinea on November 20, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Villagers from Momo Kanedou in Guinea looks at health workers from Guinea's red cross carrying the body of a victim of the Ebola virus on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers from Guinea's Red Cross prepare to carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanedou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers from Guinea's Red Cross carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanedou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers from Guinea's Red Cross wearing Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) clean their gloves with desinfectant after removing from a house the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanedou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray near the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanédou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers from Guinea's Red Cross prepare to carry the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanedou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers from Guinea's red cross carry the body of a victim of Ebola in Momo Kanédou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray near the body of a victim of the Ebola virus in Momo Kanédou in Guinea on November 19, 2014. Guinea and fellow west African states Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus, which has claimed nearly 5,200 lives this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
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"The most egregious failure was by WHO in the delay in sounding the alarm," said Ashish K. Jha, HGHI's director and a leading member of the panel. "People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring, and yet it took until August to declare a public health emergency."

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said the report had "sobering lessons" which must be learned and "translated into concrete action if we are to avert another crisis".

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