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The World Health Organization botched attempts to stop the now-spiraling Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information, according to a draft internal document obtained by The Associated Press. "Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall," the U.N. health agency said in the document.
The document said bureaucracy was a problem, noting that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are "politically motivated appointments" made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency's chief in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan. In one “particularly alarming" instance, the head of the WHO office in Guinea refused to help get visas for an expert Ebola team, while in another case $500,000 in aid was blocked by administrative hurdles.
At a meeting of WHO's network of outbreak experts in June, Dr. Bruce Aylward, normally in charge of polio eradication, alerted Chan about the serious concerns being raised about WHO's leadership in West Africa. He wrote in an email that some of the agency's partners — including national health agencies and charities — believed the agency was "compromising rather than aiding" the response to Ebola and that "none of the news about WHO's performance is good."
Dr. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said the WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office. "It's the regional office in Africa that's the frontline," he said. "And they didn't do anything. That office is really not competent."
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