Pressure mounts on WHO chief over Ebola

Health workers don protective equipment at the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.
Christopher Black | WHO | Reuters
Health workers don protective equipment at the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan must resign over the group's inefficient response to the recent Ebola crisis, the largest global AIDS organization said.

In a scathing statement released this week, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) called for sweeping reforms to the WHO to better prevent and manage dangerous epidemics.

"In light of WHO's lack of leadership, decisive action and resolve to embrace responsibility for the protection of global public health in the Ebola crisis, the current Head of WHO should step down so that a proactive, reform-minded individual might take the lead and transform WHO into an efficient global instrument for rapidly addressing global health threats," AHF said.

Responsibility

Ebola came into focus globally last March following reports of the deadly virus in West Africa. So far, the epidemic has claimed over 9,500 lives worldwide, mostly within Africa.

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"We, at AHF believe that the responsibility for this runaway humanitarian disaster cannot be solely attributed to the fragile state conditions of [West African] countries, but also, to a large extent, to the inefficient global response that was presumably led by the WHO."

AHF said its Sierra Leone staff first came to the WHO last July for advice on suspected Ebola patients in its HIV clinics, but received "a close to nothing" response.

Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow and program director of international institutions and global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out in a recent blog post that the WHO only declared the epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in August, after more than a thousand people died.

The WHO itself has admitted to its poor response. Last month, director-general Margaret Chan stated that the epidemic "overwhelmed the capacity of WHO."

Meanwhile, an internal WHO memo obtained by the Associated Press last year said "nearly everyone involved in the [Ebola] outbreak response failed to see fairly plain writing on the wall ... a perfect storm was brewing, ready to burst open in full force."

New role

Alongside Chan's resignation, AHF recommends that the WHO's recent creation of a Contingency Fund for Outbreaks should be managed by a separate financial mechanism that has experience with funding other global transmittable diseases.

"The international community needs to re-envision the new role for WHO. Following a leadership transition, WHO should swiftly start a comprehensive reform process of the entire institution so that it may become more efficient and responsive, especially in times of crisis."

WHO has not yet responded to CNBC's request for a comment.