The Tyee has published my article about the report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel: Why Canada Needs a Radically Changed World Health Organization. Excerpt:
The World Health Organization has had a bad five or six years.
As the UN's health agency, it has more tasks than resources. On this front it's like most national and regional health agencies. UN member states find it politically convenient to underfund WHO, but this has led to a stiff, cautious, bureaucratic organization -- just when globalization is creating a crisis in global health.
The so-called swine flu outbreak in 2009-10 might be considered the start of WHO's current problems. The disease spread so rapidly from its origins in Mexico and the U.S. that everyone was caught off guard. Millions contracted it (including thousands here in B.C.), and some died or were seriously disabled by it.
WHO dithered for months before finally calling it a pandemic, which it was. But too many dumb movies have defined pandemics as "everyone dies except the zombies in the streets." With a small case fatality rate, swine flu didn't seem to qualify, and the public mocked WHO's warnings.
This was politically embarrassing, and seems to have contributed to an organizational culture that didn't want to get in trouble. Matters got worse during the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti: as a UN agency, WHO evidently couldn't criticize the UN even when it had clearly imported cholera in the Nepalese peacekeepers it had hired for service in that country.
Today, cholera has infected at least 744,000 Haitians (out of a population of about 11 million) and killed almost 9,000 of them. The true numbers are likely much higher, and cholera is now considered endemic, a permanent problem. WHO's failure to assign responsibility to the UN is a serious lapse in medical ethics.
Less proactive, more reactive
Haiti brought out other problems in global health: a swarm of non-governmental organizations went into the country after the 2010 earthquake, doing disorganized good while bypassing the Haitian government. This has become a chronic issue because underfunding has forced WHO to shift from direct intervention in poor countries' outbreaks to training those countries' healthcare workers. These countries are often too poor to provide the clean water and sanitation that would erase many diseases -- let alone fund their own health systems.