Blame WHO’s Political Activism for its Ebola Failure

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Lost among the post-election hullabaloo was a great editorial in the Wall Street Journal calling out Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, for the organization’s failure to contain the Ebola crisis in West Africa. This in and of itself is nothing new. One of the casualties of the Ebola crisis has been the WHO’s credibility.

The editors at the Wall Street Journal were irritated that in a recent speech Dr. Chan attempted to deflect responsibility and place blame on, you guessed it, capitalism, racism and wealthy Western democracies. That’s right according to Dr. Chan, it’s all our fault.

In its editorial titled, “WHO Is Responsible?” the Journal argues:

Speaking Monday in front of the Regional Committee for Africa in Cotonou, Benin, Dr. Chan attributed the Ebola crisis to the world’s “deaf ears for decades” over two WHO warnings “that are now out there with consequences that all the world can see, every day, on prime-time TV news.” The first was that the outbreak is the result of neglect of “fundamental public health infrastructures,” by which she means too little funding.

Dr. Chan’s second indictment is even more remarkable. “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago,” she said. “Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually nonexistent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay. WHO has been trying to make this issue visible for ages.”

Dr. Chan ignores President George W. Bush’s extraordinary effort to combat AIDS in Africa — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), holds a unique place in the history of public health for its size and scope and won high praise.

The Journal concludes, “What Dr. Chan means is that since the 1990s the WHO has devoted ever-more of its resources to political activism instead of its core disease-fighting mission—a loss of focus that helps explain why the WHO failed to contain Ebola when it was less rampant.”

I have a difficult time believing lack of funding is the real issue here. Last month the WHO hosted its big Conference of the Parties (COP) in Moscow. The highlight of the conference was a luxury gala featuring “Salmon carpaccio with cucumber tartar, Salmon as the main course, Vitello Tonnato beef with tuna fish sauce, Red caviar, …read more    

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