In a special session of the Executive Board on Ebola, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan gave the following speech concerning the Ebola outbreak in West Africa:

west-africa-distribution-mapMister chairman, distinguished members of the Executive Board, Excellencies, Ambassadors, colleagues in the UN system, ladies and gentlemen,

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in parts of West Africa is the largest, longest, most severe, and most complex in the nearly four-decade history of this disease. This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises. The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.

Ebola is a tragedy that has taught the world, including WHO, many lessons, also about how to prevent similar events in the future. Factors of culture, history, geography, and weak road and health infrastructures produced a mix of opportunities that the virus quickly exploited.

Exceptionally mobile populations moving across exceptionally porous borders infected new areas, re-infected others, and eluded contact tracing teams. Health systems, already weakened during years of civil war and unrest, collapsed under the weight of this disease.

Prior to the outbreak, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone had only 1 to 2 doctors per nearly 100,000 population. Ebola cut this number down considerably. The number of infected doctors, nurses, and other health care staff, at nearly 850 with 500 deaths, was unprecedented for Ebola, as was the fact that these infections were still occurring in December, a year into the outbreak.

The entry of Ebola into two new countries via infected air travellers was also unprecedented.

The disease was unexpected and unfamiliar to everyone, from clinicians and laboratory staff to governments and their citizens. Ebola preyed on fear of the unfamiliar. The disease also preyed on a deep-seated cultural tradition: compassion. That is, compassionate care for the ill and ceremonial care of their bodies if they die.

Read the rest of the transcript HERE