Ebola Outbreak Highlights U.K.’s, WHO’s Needs For Emergency Response Reform

An article from the Lancet
January 29, 2016
A devastating report on the UK's lessons from Ebola was published this week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Much of the blame for the world's lacklustre response to Ebola has been laid at the door of WHO. But the committee also found surprising weaknesses in the UK's application of science to global health emergencies. It makes important recommendations for corrective action. Although targeted towards the UK, the committee's findings will also likely apply to other high-income countries involved in the response to Ebola. The investigation by the Science and Technology Committee is welcome and deserves serious reflection. What does it conclude?
 
The report begins by commending the UK Government on its “leading contribution to the fight against Ebola”. But it quickly goes on to say that these actions were “undermined by systemic delay…at every stage of our response”. These delays almost certainly cost lives. The committee quotes research showing that a faster response could have prevented as many as 12 500 cases of Ebola if interventions had been delivered just 1 month earlier. Delays took place in convening a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in delivering Public Health England's (PHE's) disease surveillance data to those charged with acting to defeat the Ebola outbreak. SAGE was chaired by Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, and the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Mark Walport. Witnesses to the committee criticised not only the slowness of SAGE's assembly, but also its composition and coordination with existing scientific committees. Walport admitted that SAGE could have moved faster. The CMO, the committee noted, was “very defensive” on this question. The committee concluded that the government failed to use the range of high-quality scientific advice available to it. Put simply, the committee found that the UK was not “research ready” to address Ebola. The result was a “less than optimal” response, including serious missed opportunities to save lives. Systems for sharing advice, expertise, and data were “inadequate”. The government failed to explain why it went against advice from WHO and PHE.
 
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