World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Margaret Chan admitted on Sunday that the U.N. agency had been caught napping on Ebola, saying it should serve as a lesson to avoid similar mistakes in future.
Opening a rare emergency session to review the fight against the epidemic, Chan said despite turning the corner, there was no room for complacency and warned that progress could very easily be undone. Chan acknowledged blistering criticism that the WHO's response to the epidemic had been slow and shoddy.
"This was West Africa's first experience with the virus and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises. The world, including the WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us," she told delegates at the third emergency session in the history of the WHO.
"Ebola is a tragedy that has taught the world, including the WHO, many lessons also about how to prevent similar events in the future. The volatile microbial world will always deliver surprises. Never again should the world be caught by surprise or be unprepared," she said.
Chan later told AFP "the priority in 2015 is to help countries get the Ebola rate down to zero." The worst outbreak of the virus in history has seen nearly 9,000 deaths in a year – almost everyone who contracted the virus in the three West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – and sparked a major health scare worldwide. But "an upsurge in new cases can follow a single unsafe act or burial or violent act of community resistance," Chan said. She called for a "dedicated contingency fund to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies," the need to enhance crisis management in the heart of the WHO, better international coordination and surveillance and a "far more rigorous methodology for evaluating these capacities."
"Countries must be supported to have their own workforce for responding to emergencies, trained and drilled to perform with military precision," she said.