Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Catastrophic Ebola Outbreak Not a Perfect Storm but Systems Failure: MSF

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Catastrophic Ebola Outbreak Not a Perfect Storm but Systems Failure: MSF

Article excerpt

Ebola a systems failure, not perfect storm


TORONTO - West Africa's ongoing Ebola outbreak reached its catastrophic scale because of the failure of a variety of international agencies and the lack of global health rapid response capacity, a new report says

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders, released the report to co-incide with the year anniversary of the recognition that Ebola had broken out in Guinea, a part of Africa that had never before dealt with the disease.

The report notes that many observers have suggested the scale of the outbreak was due to a perfect storm-like confluence of factors. The disease appeared at the juncture of three countries with porous borders and fragile health-care systems. And it ravaged people with no prior experience with Ebola and no understanding of how it spreads.

But the report says that analysis is "too convenient an explanation."

"For the Ebola outbreak to spiral this far out of control required many institutions to fail. And they did, with tragic and avoidable consequences," says Christopher Stokes, general director of the doctors' group.

The report says the World Health Organization displayed a lack of leadership, downplaying the threat the outbreak posed when MSF officials were desperately trying to get the world to realize how dangerous the situation in West Africa had become.

"Meetings happened. Action didn't," says Marie-Christine Ferir, MSF's emergency co-ordinator.

The Associated Press reported last week that the idea of declaring the outbreak a global health emergency was floated in early June, but the Geneva-based agency held off taking that step until early August. Emails obtained by the AP suggest the WHO worried the move would anger the affected countries, might restrict travel of Muslims to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and might have economic consequences.

But the report says the WHO is not the only agency that bears blame. "It would be a mistake to attribute full responsibility for the dysfunctional response to just one agency. Instead, the age-old failures of the humanitarian aid system have also been laid bare for the world to see, rather than buried in under-reported crises like those in Central African Republic and South Sudan," the report says. …

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