The WHO Needs an Injection of Sense Over Ebola Crisis

By William J. Furney

Off all the many diseases to afflict humankind, Ebola is surely one of the most feared. There’s no cure and the fatality rate can be as high as 90 percent, although the average is said to be around 50 percent. Either way, if you’re unlucky enough to catch this viral disease, you’ll not only suffer enormously but you’ll be fighting for your life. 

Ebola can start out with symptoms that could easily be confused with having the flu: high fever, bad headache, pains in muscles and general weakness and lethargy. But as the oftentimes unstoppable pathogen continues its advance in the human body, victims can also expect vomiting, diarrhea and pain in the abdominal area. But what really gives Ebola its reputation as the stuff of disease nightmares is its tendency in the later stages of an infection to cause bleeding from many, if not all, orifices — including the eyes. 

So far, Ebola has been a disease of Africa, a continent brimming with a wealth of natural resources but one that remains mired in deep levels of poverty, largely due to various and ongoing conflicts, steep mountains of corruption and overall mismanagement of entire country economies. The current outbreak is mainly centered in the conflicted Central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), scene of an ongoing civil war that has claimed millions of lives, either directly or indirectly, and a huge battle against a microscopic enemy named after the Ebola River in DRC where it first struck humans in nearby villages in 1976.

A mass infection in 2014 was the worst since the virus was discovered and in the following two years, over 11,000 people died, although it’s believed the actual figure may be far higher, due to difficulties obtaining information from many rural communities. Now the pathogen is back with a vengeance, and at least 1,000 people have died in DRC in the fresh eruption. 

This month Ebola was called the most complex health crisis in history” and a “terrifying epidemic” that’s “out of control”. 

What’s the World Health Organization (WHO), a global body set up to protect people’s health, been doing? Having lots of meetings and saying Ebola is not really a problem; and looking for tons more cash to try deal with the frightening public health emergency. It’s not all that surprising. Like its parent organisation, the United Nations (UN), WHO personnel are really only concerned with one thing: the health of their burgeoning bank accounts. 

Just as the beleaguered UN is impotently unable to meet its post-World War II mandate of preventing further outbreak of war — Syria the most recent, blatant example, along with the ongoing travesty in Yemen — the WHO is not really all that interested in preventing the outbreak of disease. Not when their own pockets are at stake. 

Let’s not forget that the head of the UN Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, was forced to step down last year following revelations he had racked up nearly half a million US dollars in flights and hotel expenses in less than two years — in one instance, jetting from the US to Europe for a weekend, and back to the States on Monday. Just so terribly important that the Norwegian couldn’t keep his feet on the ground for more than 10 minutes while helping to litter the skies with many tons of environmentally destructive carbon emissions. And you can be sure he wasn’t flying coach/economy. 

They are all in it for themselves.

I asked WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier why the organisation has been unable to repeatedly contain the Ebola outbreak ravaging Africa, especially coming so soon after the recent outbreak. He said that after members of the WHO’s “Emergency Committee on the Ebola Outbreak” went to the DRC in mid-June — their third such trip — and met with government officials and those from other African countries, they found there was no real emergency at all. “Based on this,” Mr Lindmeier told me, “the committee decided that the outbreak does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern” — Capitalisation And All. 

Follow-up questions were ignored. 

Meanwhile, Lindmeier’s boss, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian head of the WHO, is just mad about money. He wants another $54 million to reach the WHO’s Ebola-fighting goal of $98 million, as $44 has already been received from member nations. 

“Bipartisan political leadership in DRC is the only way that communities will eventually understand the threat of Ebola and take ownership in ending the outbreak,” the former politician lectured after a trip to DRC this month, before swiftly returning to the comforting confines of his Geneva office. “Meanwhile,” he boldly declared, “other countries have a global responsibility to support the dedicated health responders — from DRC, from across Africa and across the world — who are bravely working to save lives.”

You might think that given the dire situation in DRC, one that poses a direct risk to a person’s life, the WHO would advise against all travel to the country. Wrong. Please keep travelling to DRC, the world health body inexplicably says — arguing, hopelessly, that because there’s no way to inoculate yourself against Ebola, there’s no point on banning people from entering the country. 

“WHO advises against any restriction of travel to, and trade with, the Democratic Republic of the Congo based on the currently available information,” it counsels. “There is currently no licensed vaccine to protect people from the Ebola virus. Therefore, any requirements for certificates of Ebola vaccination are not a reasonable basis for restricting movement across borders or the issuance of visas for travellers to/from the affected countries.”

Perhaps the world should be inoculated against the WHO and its ongoing, rolling ineptitude. Dr Tedros’ predecessor, the equally disastrous Margaret Chan, was, after all, roundly criticised for her failures to contain deadly bird flu in Asia. I know; I was there. And as much as I also love Africa, I certainly won’t be going to DRC until the WHO, if ever, cleans up its Ebola act. 

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