“Cuts at W.H.O. Hurt Response to Ebola Crisis”
The New York Times, September 4, 2014, p.A1
“The W.H.O. had to cut nearly $1 billion from its proposed two-year budget, which today stands at $3.98 billion. (By contrast, the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2013 alone was about $6 billion.) The cuts forced difficult choices. More emphasis was placed on efforts like fighting chronic global ailments, including heart disease and diabetes. The whims of donor countries, foundations and individuals also greatly influenced the W.H.O.’s agenda, with gifts, often to advance specific causes, far surpassing dues from member nations, which account for only 20 percent of its budget. At the agency’s Geneva headquarters, outbreak and emergency response, which was never especially well funded, suffered particularly deep losses, leaving offices that look, one consultant said, like a ghost town. The W.H.O.’s epidemic and pandemic response department — including a network of anthropologists to help overcome cultural differences during outbreaks — was dissolved, its duties split among other departments. Some of the main outbreak pioneers moved on. … The entire W.H.O. unit devoted to the science of pandemic and epidemic diseases — responsible for more than a dozen killers, including flu, cholera, yellow fever and bubonic plague — has only 52 regular employees, including secretaries, according to its director, Dr. Sylvie Briand, who said that could be increased during outbreaks. Before the Ebola epidemic, her department had just one technical expert on Ebola and other hemorrhagic diseases.”
Quickie Analysis: So virtually no one was on duty at the UN’s World Health Organization when Ebola struck this time, a casualty of the global financial crisis, conflicting priorities (including priorities of wealthy funders), and a short attention span.