At the beginning of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which eventually led to nearly 30,000 cases including 11,000 deaths, the WHO came in for heavy criticism for being slow to grasp its severity and to declare an international emergency.
Dr Eccleston-Turner said that when an international health emergency was finally declared in August 2014 it triggered the involvement of the United Nations which described the outbreak as a threat to global peace and security.
He added: “WHO has learned some of the lessons of the West Africa outbreak and seems to be in a much better position now. But we cannot have complacency or hesitancy at WHO.”
But the situation in the summer of 2014 was very different: Ebola was spreading like wildfire in three countries, there was concern it would spread beyond Africa and there was no clear strategy for dealing with the disease. There was also no vaccine to control the spread of the disease or treatments for those infected.
By contrast today, international agencies have at their disposal a vaccine, four experimental treatments for patients as well as a tried and tested containment strategy.
The Lancet paper states that declaring a public health emergency would be “a clarion call to galvanise high-level political, financial, and technical support… It would provide a clear signal from the world’s global health body that UN leadership is urgent.”