The slow international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa created an “avoidable” tragedy that cost thousands of lives, a leading medical charity said on the one year anniversary of the first confirmed case.
The world’s worst Ebola epidemic has killed more than 10,200 people in the three most affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March 2014 when it was confirmed in the forest region of Guinea.
Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), which first raised the alarm over Ebola, said in a report that everyone from national governments to the World Health Organization (WHO) had created bottlenecks that prevented the epidemic being quickly snuffed out.
“The Ebola outbreak has often been described as a perfect storm: a cross-border epidemic in countries with weak public health systems that had never seen Ebola before,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, said in the report.
“Yet this is too convenient an explanation. For the Ebola outbreak to spiral this far out of control required many institutions to fail. And they did, with tragic and avoidable consequences.”
In a scathing report titled “Pushed to the limit and beyond,” MSF said its warnings in June that the epidemic was out of control and that it could not respond on its own were dismissed as alarmist.
Fear and panic
Guinea and Sierra Leone downplayed the epidemic and accused MSF of spreading fear and panic. In June, the Sierra Leone government told the WHO to report only lab-confirmed deaths — falsely reducing the death toll, the report said.
Kenema hospital in the southeast, where some of the first cases were reported in Sierra Leone, also withheld crucial epidemiological data preventing MSF from identifying affected villages and responding, the report said.
“The Ministry of Health and the partners of Kenema hospital refused to share data or lists of contacts with us, so we were working in the dark while cases kept coming in,” MSF’s emergency co-ordinator in Sierra Leone, Anja Wolz, said in the report.
Liberia was transparent and asked for help almost on a daily basis. MSF, which reported this to the WHO in June, said the outbreak could have been halted if immediate action had been taken, but the warnings were again ignored.