Early call for Ebola help 'ignored,' group claims

Mar 23, 2015, 3:10 AM EDT
A woman gets vaccinated on March 10, 2015 at a health center in Conakry during the first clinical trials of the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on March 5 that clinical trials launched on March 7 in Guinea marked the last step before the vaccine is available on the market.
AFP/Getty Images

A "global coalition of inaction" contributed to world's deadliest Ebola outbreak, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres says. Its report - a year after the outbreak was declared - suggests early calls for help were ignored by local governments and the World Health Organization, reports the BBC.

The charity says "many institutions failed, with tragic and avoidable consequences." Ebola has killed more than 10,000 people in the last 12 months. Most deaths occurred in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The first person to succumb to the disease during this outbreak is thought to have been a toddler in a remote part of Guinea. He died in December 2013. Three months later the WHO officially announced an outbreak. And it was a further five months before the organisation declared it a global health emergency. At this point more than 1,000 people had lost their lives.

Henry Gray, MSF emergency coordinator, told the BBC: "We were well aware this was something different in March and April last year and we did try to bring this to the attention of the WHO but also governments within the countries affected.

"And of course it was frustrating that we weren't heard and that has probably led to the scale of the epidemic we see today." The charity says it should also have used more of its own resources earlier in the crisis. he analysis, which includes dozens of interviews with MSF staff, says by the end of August treatment centres in Liberia where overwhelmed. Healthcare workers were forced to turn away visibly ill patients "in full knowledge they would likely return to their communities and infect others".

In January 2015 at a rare emergency meeting, the WHO admitted it was too late to respond. Dr Margaret Chan, director general, said: "The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us."

There are now proposals to build-up a rapid response team to react more swiftly to future threats. Numbers are falling but MSF says the outbreak is not yet over. Overall cases have not declined significantly since January, the charity warns.

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