More than 11,000 people have died in West Africa since the start of an Ebola epidemic there in late 2013. Photo by David Carillet/Shutterstock
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- The Ebola outbreak in West Africa that started in 2013 was 10 times worse than all the ones before it combined, and a new report says a slow response from the World Health Organization may be to blame.
Several countries, including the United States, removed travel warnings to the region in early September, despite a new case of the disease being reported at the end of June. In total, six new cases were found in June, two of which resulted in death.
The case had been the first since March, but came at the end of a waiting period the organization requires before declaring an epidemic over.
"Ebola exposed WHO as unable to meet its responsibility for responding to such situations and alerting the global community," a panel of experts from Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote in a report on the response to Ebola published Sunday in The Lancet.
From December 2013 to March 2014, experts said the then-small outbreak showed inadequate national investment and donor support to build national health systems capable of detecting and responding to diseases. As the outbreak grew, from April to July 2014, the lack of incentive for countries to report outbreaks and slowness of the WHO to mobilize global attention or assistance came into view.
As the outbreak grew into an epidemic in 2014 and early 2015, experts cite the lack of attention paid to WHO efforts, including government and private sector disregard for travel and trade restriction, unclear coordination, poor understanding of the importance of global community engagement, and an overall slow operational response as contributing to the epidemic's growth.
Experts outlined a series of recommendations in their report they think can improve future responses by individual countries, as well as the WHO as a whole. Several of the 10 recommendations focus on developing strategies to invest in, monitor and sustain national efforts for disease detection and reporting, incentives to report diseases and outbreaks in a more timely fashion, and to make and enforce trade and travel restrictions that help prevent the spread of disease.
A series of committees, which would be responsible for creating standard practices, monitoring global health and directing the response to outbreaks and epidemics, are suggested in the report in order to rely less on individual nations when responding to disease, as is a more coordinated effort at discovering, manufacturing and disseminating drugs essential to controlling outbreak situations.
"A number of [the experts'] recommendations cover work that is already being done -- including steps set in place by WHO in early 2015," Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN. "It is gratifying to see that there is consensus of thought on many of these key issues."