The delayed declaration of the Ebola epidemic which is an international public health emergency in West Africa strenuously being refused by the World Health Organization due to political reasons. Will it not affect the agency’s credibility?
The Associated Press’ article said secretly acquired e-mails of internal documents denoted the WHO was scared that declaring a worldwide crisis could set off alarm bells, which could hurt nations’ economies or intermeddle with the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Margaret Harris, WHO’s spokeswoman on Ebola, told VOA that the insistence was absolutely untruthful.
“There was no secrecy. The minute we were informed of the cases and the minute we had confirmation that it was Ebola-Zaire, we notified the world. … It is not correct to say that the timing of the declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern was in any way influenced by political considerations,” says Harris.
The delay in making the declaration may have cost lives said the author of the article. When the WHO declared Ebola as a worldwide health crisis in early August, more than four months after the finding of the virus in Guinea on March 23 was announced, almost 1,000 people had already died from the disease.
For the past year, WHO has said that there have been over 24,700 incidents, including over 10,200 losses in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea making it the largest epidemic ever recorded in West Africa.
The Organization said it had treated the three nations as one nation because they shared permeable borders, facilitating the outspread of the virus between them. The organization also added that it ceased from sounding a worldwide warning as long as the epidemic was restricted to the three nations.
This policy changed when a man from Liberia who was sick with Ebola flew to Nigeria at the end of July and suddenly infected others, and that it was this event that finally actuated the WHO declaration of the worldwide health crisis, Harris said.
In reconsideration, Harris said, it shows that more action — not only from WHO, but also from the rest of the world — would have been better.
“Had action occurred earlier, perhaps we would have seen a greater control of the outbreak earlier, as we are now seeing much more effective response. We are getting closer to ending the outbreak in these countries,” Harris said.
She also stated that it was senseless to play the “blame game.” She noted that WHO has set up an independent reconsideration to valuate the agency’s response to the Ebola outbreak. When that is finalized, WHO will have a better sense of what went well, what didn’t and what needs to be changed, says Harris.