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World Health Organization's Ebola Response Draws Criticism

The head of the World Health Organization has admitted that there were problems with the organization's response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa but says history will be the ultimate judge of the results.

A WHO memo leaked last month suggested that incompetent staff and a lack of information had hampered efforts to stop the disease from spreading.

Questioned on the issue Wednesday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan acknowledged there had been problems.

“There will be time for history and we will reveal how the whole world and especially WHO managed the Ebola outbreak," she said. "But at this point in time it is important for us to focus our entire energy and attention to help countries that are being affected to get the job done.”

The Ebola outbreak has laid bare an institution in crisis, said global health policy expert Sophie Harman of Queen Mary University of London.

“The World Health Organization should have had a clear leadership role in the Ebola response," Harman said. "But increasingly we see bilateral organizations such as the U.K. Department for International Development, or the U.S. government taking a lead role. Multilaterally, it has really been the World Bank that is stepped up in this regard.”

The World Bank pledged an extra $100 million last month for the fight against Ebola. Several U.N. agencies also have been involved.

“We have multiple institutions but nobody really directing where these energies should be going towards,” Harman said.

U.S. efforts

The United States has taken on the biggest burden in funding and manpower.

The first group of service members from the U.S. Ebola mission returned Tuesday to Texas. Other countries, including China and European states, have faced criticism for their contributions.

“We still have seen some of the major global donors, the EU, are not stepping up," said Barry Johnston, head of advocacy at ActionAid, a charity working in the region. "And it is only really when it is worrying them, when it is starting to threaten their own doors, that they are prepared to respond.”

The European Union’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, visited Sierra Leone this week and called for EU states to do more.

“I appeal to the EU member states to encourage health workers and volunteers, especially epidemiologists, to put hesitation and fear aside and go to West Africa to help fight Ebola now,” Andriukaitis said.

Profits rerouted

Despite the hundreds of millions pledged, campaigners say global efforts to fund the fight against Ebola are being undermined, because multinational companies are shifting profits away from West Africa and weakening local economies.

“ActionAid looked at the three countries affected by the Ebola crisis — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — and found that in 2011, the last year that figures were available, those countries actually lost more money to tax avoidance than they were able to spend on their health services," Johnson said.

Analysts say rebuilding those health systems will be the crucial next step for the international community. For now, all efforts are directed at containing the disease.