Slow reaction by World Health Organisation to Ebola virus criticised by experts

The World Health Organisation (WHO) failed to act quickly to contain the spread of the Ebola virus, a critical new report has said.

An independent panel of 20 experts slammed the "egregious failure" of the WHO to raise the alarm when the first signs of the outbreak emerged in 2014.

Officials at the organisation were aware the virus was getting out of control by spring 2014, but waited until August to declare a public health emergency.

"The cost of the delay was enormous," said Professor Ashish Jha, co-chair of the report panel.

Liberian panel member Dr Mosoka Fallah said the global response to the disaster had been "late, feeble and un-coordinated".

The outbreak claimed more than 11,000 lives, beginning in Guinea in December 2013.

Earlier this month, Sierra Leone, where nearly 4,000 people have died from the virus, was declared Ebola-free. However, a case of Ebola was confirmed in a 10-year-old boy in Liberia - which was previously declared free of the disease - on Friday.

The panel has called for sweeping reforms to ensure there is no repeat of the catastrophe.

The World Health Organisation faced criticism in the report. Credit: Reuters

The report said that even when the epidemic entered its second phase, in March 2014, the WHO failed to mobilise global assistance "despite ample evidence the outbreak had overwhelmed national and non-governmental capacities". This highlighted "failures in both technical judgment and political leadership".

It was not until August 2014 that the WHO officially designated the Ebola outbreak an international public emergency.

"The most egregious failure was by WHO in the delay in sounding the alarm," said Professor Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The report, published in The Lancet medical journal, called for 10 major reforms aimed at preventing and responding to future major disease outbreaks.

One of the key proposals was the creation of a unified WHO centre with "clear responsibility, adequate capacity, and strong lines of accountability for outbreak responses".

Changes were also recommended to bring more focus and better governance to WHO, as well as the establishment of a global fund to support necessary research and development.

The report also wanted to see a better system of accountability with the establishment of an independent commission for disease outbreak prevention and response.