- The World Health Organization is setting up mechanisms to deal with future health emergencies.
- The EU’s emergency coordination response centre was used during management of the Ebola crisis.
- The international community needs to learn lessons from the Ebola crisis, such as speeding up response time.
- Work on the interface between human and animal health is underway.
- Investments could be made in local health clinics.
On 9 May 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in Liberia to be over. While this is good news, the Ebola crisis is ongoing in Guinea and Sierra Leone and the borders between the three countries are very porous. WHO has nearly 1 000 staff in the three countries and plans to stay until Ebola has been eradicated there.
WHO is working to prevent the recurrence of this type of outbreak by setting up a programme for health emergencies and a global health emergency workforce and by developing new business processes to facilitate a rapid and effective response. These all need to be funded.
For its part, the EU has an emergency coordination response centre that was used during the Ebola crisis to coordinate national health, research, development and military departments via daily teleconferences. This is a new way of working on crisis management for the EU.
The international community did not have mechanisms in place to act quickly enough in the Ebola crisis. It needs to learn lessons from this failure and translate them into specific actions so that it can cope with a new pandemic if one occurs.
If there is another pandemic in a fragile or failed state environment, then international health regulations will not be sufficient. WHO needs to have an emergency operational service so that people can be sent out immediately. Future emergency operations could be modeled on the architecture of humanitarian aid, for example with a logistics cluster (to move ships, etc.) embedded in the World Food Programme (WFP) and a food security cluster, also under the auspices of the WFP.
Ineffective surveillance and lack of treatments and vaccines were major problems during the Ebola crisis. There is a need for robust surveillance. Many countries are still in crisis because there is still no vaccinations taking place and there is no trust in national health systems. A further problem is that countries do not have much incentive to declare an epidemic because such a declaration can harm trade and investment and cause panic in the country.
An initiative called One Health – in which WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are working together – is looking into the interface between human and animal health. Some 70 % of new human diseases arise first among animals. The initiative will look at the science and see how it can feed into the development of strategies to deal with diseases. Countries’ agriculture and health departments also need to work together.
It was also suggested that countries should invest in local health clinics. This would provide the local community with healthcare and help to ensure that governments are alerted when an outbreak takes place. International donors could look at such investments and check that they are being developed, for example if new clinics are being properly staffed. Another idea is for countries to look at the human resources and skill sets that they have in the health sector.
The resistance and reluctance of local communities to cooperate with response teams has been one of the problems faced during the Ebola crisis. WHO believes that outbreak containment depends on local community engagement.