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Cash Slow to Reach Ebola Zone, Study Finds

Donations poured in fast to fight Ebola, but bureaucracy means the money's not getting where it's needed.

Slowed by bureaucracy and red tape, less than half the money promised to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has reached its intended targets, allowing the virus to spread, according to a study released Tuesday.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, was slow in asking for cash to help Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea fight the epidemic, Karen Grépin, assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, said in her report. And even though countries, charities and private donors rushed to donate, the money is moving at a snail's pace.

Of nearly $3 billion pledged, just $1 billion has been paid out, Grépin found.

"The international response has been called both too small and too slow, and this may have contributed to the ongoing spread of the disease."

"The problem has not been the generosity of donors but that the resources have not been deployed rapidly enough," Grépin said.

"The international response has been called both too small and too slow, and this may have contributed to the ongoing spread of the disease," Grépin writes in her report, published in the British Medical Journal.

Ebola's infected more than 22,000 people and killed nearly 9,000 of them. It's wrecked the already teetering economies of the three worst-hit countries, closed schools and threatened the harvest.

Guinea's Ministry of Health notified WHO that it had a "rapidly evolving outbreak" of Ebola virus disease in March, and within a week, WHO sent some protective equipment and other medical supplies to Guinea.

But it wasn't until August that WHO and the presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asked for international aid — and they asked for only $71 million. By November, it was up to $1.5 billion.

Donors have been way more generous than that, said Grépin, who used a U.N. database for her research.

"As of 31 December 2014, donors had pledged a total of $2.89 billion to support the international response to the Ebola outbreak; however, only $1.09 billion has actually been paid," Grépin wrote.

"Existing contracting mechanisms are too slow."

"I estimate that it took until at least mid-October before the affected countries received $500 million and until at least December before they got $1 billion. Since late September, international donors have pledged more to the Ebola response than has been officially requested by international leaders. Actual disbursement of funds, however, still lags behind the total amount requested."

The U.S. is the largest donor, promising $900 million — and 95 percent of that has been delivered, Grépin said. Britain's pledged $307 million, the World Bank has promised $230 million and Germany has pledged $161 million.

It's important to follow the money to see if there are ways to make the process more efficient, said Grépin.

"The data do not allow the speed of response to be compared with that for other humanitarian crises, but they do suggest that we need a mechanism to enable more rapid disbursement of funds to fight public health threats such as Ebola, such as a dedicated fund that could be rapidly deployed for any emergency," Grépin said.

"Existing contracting mechanisms are too slow."