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January 25, 2015

Ebola cases waning

WHO says it must act more quickly to future emergencies

GENEVA - Ebola is declining but there is no room for complacency and the World Health Organization (WHO) must respond faster to future emergencies, its director-general told member states held talks on Sunday on the WHO's delay in facing the deadly epidemic.

The special session in Geneva was called by member states seeking reforms amid strong criticism of the United Nations agency's response to the outbreak that began a year ago in West Africa.

Dr. Margaret Chan also said that vaccines and drugs must be brought to the market more speedily so that the world is not caught "empty-handed" when a severe disease causes an epidemic.

Cases are declining in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and the worst-case scenario had been avoided, Chan told the WHO's Executive Board. "But we must maintain the momentum and guard against complacency and donor fatigue."

To date, 21,724 cases of Ebola have been reported in nine countries, including 8,641 deaths, the WHO says.

Some $4 billion has been spent to try to halt its spread and WHO requires a further $1 billion this year, U.N. special envoy David Nabarro said.

Donors led by the United States, Britain and France,  presented a resolution saying the "short-comings in WHO's human resources systems and processes slowed down the Ebola response".

The text, expected to be adopted later by consensus on Sunday, calls for reforms and establishing a 'global health emergency workforce' to be deployed speedily in future crises.

"One concept that we should all keep foremost in mind is that as cases decrease our efforts must increase in order to get to zero (cases)," Tom Frieden director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), told the Geneva talks.

The WHO remains essential to efforts to increase global health security, Frieden said. "But we know significant changes are needed ... We have to be frank that too many times the technical is over-ruled by the political in WHO. We have to reverse that."

Jerome Oberrelt, secretary-general of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) International said: "Thousands have died because of international negligence."

"Ten months into the outbreak, crucial gaps remain," he said. "There is almost no sharing of information for cross-border contact-tracing. Surveillance teams still lack resources for active case-finding." 

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