AHF calls for widespread reform at international health agencies—including asking for the resignation of World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Margaret Chan
KAMPALA, UGANDA and LOS ANGELES, CALIFORINA (February 24, 2015) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, today called for sweeping reforms to the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies in order to strengthen global preparedness for public health crises and prevent—or more effectively respond to—another dangerous epidemic like the most recent Ebola virus outbreak, which has claimed 9,451 lives—including two AHF physicians—and infected over 23,000 individuals in nine countries since March 2014.
As the first reported cases of Ebola spread rapidly through West Africa last Spring, the alarming lack of adequate medical facilities and critical protective equipment—in addition to the unprepared and confused response by intergovernmental and global health agencies—prompted AHF physicians and medical staff to redirect their attention and resources towards caring for those afflicted by Ebola. “Ebola caused a big disruption in the HIV care and treatment services we provide in my country,” explained AHF Sierra Leone Country Manager Miata Jambawai, “and we tragically lost two medical doctors who were fighting to keep patients alive, one in Sierra Leone and one in Liberia.”
Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, AHF’s Medical Officer in Sierra Leone, died of Ebola on July 29, 2014. He was overseeing AHF’s HIV/AIDS care program in Sierra Leone and was also the country’s leading Ebola specialist. Dr. John Taban Dada, a consultant with AHF’s partner organization in Liberia, People Associated for People’s Assistance (PAPA), died on October 9, 2014.
“As the outbreak intensified, we desperately approached the WHO’s offices in Sierra Leone in order to get proper advice on how to manage HIV patients under these circumstances, what protective gear to wear and where to procure it,” continued Jambawai. “The response from the WHO was close to null. They did not know the answers and as a result, AHF staff turned to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for advice. MSF was able to provide the necessary information, including how to use and where to procure the personal protective gear.”
“If the international air traffic control were managed like global public health is managed right now, there is no doubt that planes would be colliding in the sky every day,” declared AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Given the epic failure of Dr. Margaret Chan to manage the WHO’s response to Ebola as thousands of people were literally dying in the streets of West Africa, we call upon her to step aside now to make way for a leader who is up to the task of transforming the agency and fighting the next international public health emergency.
“The world needs a different kind of international agency that can rapidly and effectively respond to public health threats before they become an epidemic,” continued Weinstein. “We look to the UN Security Council to create a new structure fully prepared to execute quick, coordinated responses to international emergencies when every second counts.”
Terri Ford, AHF’s Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy, summed up the main three proposals in the statement issued by AHF: 1) Due to well-documented questions of her leadership and judgment, Margaret Chan, the current head of WHO, should step down so that a proactive, reform-minded individual might take the lead and transform WHO; 2) A Contingency Fund for Outbreaks, which is being developed to fight highly infectious diseases of international concern, should not be managed by the WHO, as it is in its current state, but instead should be headed up by an experienced independent financial mechanism that takes into account a comprehensive group of global public health stakeholders; and 3) The UN Security Council needs to be involved in the rapid decision making when the world is facing global public health threats, like the Ebola crisis.
Finally, Dr. Jorge Saavedra, who has served in the past as a Board Member at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GF), representing Latin America & The Caribbean, and who currently serves as AHF’s Global Public Health Ambassador, said, “the world cannot afford to create several global funds for different diseases.”
“It is logical to conclude that since the Global Fund has growing experience on funding the response to 3 transmittable diseases globally, it should also be the one to manage a Contingency Fund for other transmittable outbreaks,” Saavedra added. “The point here is that the current GF Board can decide to adapt or just remain a spectator while a different kind, or parallel, global financial mechanism is being created; After 12 years in existence, we believe that the Global Fund can now be transformed and rapidly adapted to manage additional funds to cover other transmittable diseases.”
The full AHF Statement on Ebola can be seen at https://www.aidshealth.org/ebolastatement