LONDON— A panel of experts says major reforms of the global health system are needed - if the world is to avoid a repeat of the Ebola epidemic that swept across West Africa in 2014 and early 2015. The investigation – convened by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - says the slow response cost thousands of lives.
More than 11,000 people died as the Ebola virus spread across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - with minor outbreaks in a handful of other African countries. The investigation into the global response describes ‘immense human suffering, fear and chaos’ – and criticizes a lack of political leadership.
Professor Peter Piot was part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus in what was then Zaire in 1976, and chaired the report into the latest outbreak.
“We need to support those countries that are most vulnerable to epidemics to build their capacity, so that they can diagnose locally and promptly, and also organize the response through health education and whatever measures have to be put in place," said Piot.
The report says the biggest single failure was the World Health Organization's delay in sounding the alarm on the outbreak.
“And as a result many people died unnecessarily, that could have been prevented. That means a better-equipped and more-efficient and more-responsive WHO, World Health Organization. And also a system that brings more accountability, that we know where the money is going, that we know which states are doing what they promised to do," said Piot.
Since the outbreak, promising vaccines have been developed against Ebola. Piot says thousands of lives could have been saved with earlier investment.
Last month the three worst affected countries celebrated the first week none of them had experienced any new infections. But in recent days there have been several new cases in Liberia.
“We have discovered now, which is something we didn’t know, that people – men – can excrete the virus in their seminal fluid for six or seven months. That there may be persistence of the virus in the body. So all that is very new," he said.
Piot says those new developments make the reforms even more urgent, to prevent a future pandemic.