Expert: U.S. Ebola response lacking

As various experts and organizations look back at how the international community approached the Ebola crisis in West Africa, serious gaps and errors in the response efforts are coming to light.

The Heritage Foundation recently released a report that was highly critical of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s response to the Ebola outbreak.

Dr. Jill Bellamy, an international expert on biological warfare and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, also has significant concerns with how the ongoing crisis was, and continues to be, addressed.  When interviewed for American Thinker, Bellamy was particularly disappointed in the U.S. government's response:

It is surprising to me that, since the U.S. anthrax attacks, we (i.e., U.S., E.U., and the global public health community) who have developed and run wargames, scenarios, and table top exercises (e.g., Atlantic Storm, Dark Winter, and a host of other military bio-defense scenarios over the past several years) still see such gaps in preparedness. Particularly where hospital staff who've never been in a BSL4 [biosafety level 4] lab or have very little training in highly pathogenic infectious disease control would even consider trying to treat a patient with confirmed EBV [Zaire Ebola virus]. It was shocking to see health care workers with marginal training and people who have no experience with Category A agents attempting to treat or contain this type of disease. I personally was surprised to see people even from CDC [Centers for Disease Control] who've no experience or expertise in VHF's [viral hemorrhagic fevers] speaking as if they were Ebola experts. Ebola is on a completely different scale than general hospital staff could manage or even consider trying to manage in an infectious disease unit. CDC notes a total of 55 hospitals with Ebola Treatment Centers. Over the years of working with US experts, I would consider maybe four of these to be fully capable of handling Ebola patients.

Bellamy also criticized the creation of the "Ebola czar," which she characterized as indicating "a lack of adequate risk communication."  According to Bellamy, the "CDC should have shown much stronger leadership, and as both CDC and WHO have dedicated risk communication sections it is disappointing that this was absent in the first months of the outbreak and particularly once patients were arriving in the U.S."

Bellamy is less critical of the WHO than is the Heritage Foundation report, although she concedes they could have performed better.  "One of the issues to emerge early on was that WHO was the only health organization remotely capable, and very importantly, the only one at the time who would volunteer to do the job they did and try to coordinate the response," said Bellamy.  "MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres] on the ground was highly effective but were at points constrained by WHO. MSF had warned for weeks that this outbreak was sliding out of control, they raised the alarm and that was initially ignored. MSF should be given more decision making power in future global public health crisis. They were instrumental in every capacity to containing the outbreak with WHO dragging its feet at points. There were serious political issues involved in the selection of drugs, vaccines, and support therapies and the testing of this in WA [West Africa]. It is unfortunate that the situation on the ground was so chaotic that this likely resulted in higher mortality rates."

Overall, Bellamy agrees with the Heritage Foundation's recommendations to improve medical training and increase access to effective and sustainable health care for West African countries, noting that "[i]f we take anything away from the worst outbreak of Ebola in human history, the lesson we must learn is that investing in global public health initiatives and supporting public health infrastructures in failed and failing states where disease, conflict, and poverty go hand in hand not only protects indigenous populations, but protects the global community as a whole."

As various experts and organizations look back at how the international community approached the Ebola crisis in West Africa, serious gaps and errors in the response efforts are coming to light.

The Heritage Foundation recently released a report that was highly critical of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s response to the Ebola outbreak.

Dr. Jill Bellamy, an international expert on biological warfare and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, also has significant concerns with how the ongoing crisis was, and continues to be, addressed.  When interviewed for American Thinker, Bellamy was particularly disappointed in the U.S. government's response:

It is surprising to me that, since the U.S. anthrax attacks, we (i.e., U.S., E.U., and the global public health community) who have developed and run wargames, scenarios, and table top exercises (e.g., Atlantic Storm, Dark Winter, and a host of other military bio-defense scenarios over the past several years) still see such gaps in preparedness. Particularly where hospital staff who've never been in a BSL4 [biosafety level 4] lab or have very little training in highly pathogenic infectious disease control would even consider trying to treat a patient with confirmed EBV [Zaire Ebola virus]. It was shocking to see health care workers with marginal training and people who have no experience with Category A agents attempting to treat or contain this type of disease. I personally was surprised to see people even from CDC [Centers for Disease Control] who've no experience or expertise in VHF's [viral hemorrhagic fevers] speaking as if they were Ebola experts. Ebola is on a completely different scale than general hospital staff could manage or even consider trying to manage in an infectious disease unit. CDC notes a total of 55 hospitals with Ebola Treatment Centers. Over the years of working with US experts, I would consider maybe four of these to be fully capable of handling Ebola patients.

Bellamy also criticized the creation of the "Ebola czar," which she characterized as indicating "a lack of adequate risk communication."  According to Bellamy, the "CDC should have shown much stronger leadership, and as both CDC and WHO have dedicated risk communication sections it is disappointing that this was absent in the first months of the outbreak and particularly once patients were arriving in the U.S."

Bellamy is less critical of the WHO than is the Heritage Foundation report, although she concedes they could have performed better.  "One of the issues to emerge early on was that WHO was the only health organization remotely capable, and very importantly, the only one at the time who would volunteer to do the job they did and try to coordinate the response," said Bellamy.  "MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres] on the ground was highly effective but were at points constrained by WHO. MSF had warned for weeks that this outbreak was sliding out of control, they raised the alarm and that was initially ignored. MSF should be given more decision making power in future global public health crisis. They were instrumental in every capacity to containing the outbreak with WHO dragging its feet at points. There were serious political issues involved in the selection of drugs, vaccines, and support therapies and the testing of this in WA [West Africa]. It is unfortunate that the situation on the ground was so chaotic that this likely resulted in higher mortality rates."

Overall, Bellamy agrees with the Heritage Foundation's recommendations to improve medical training and increase access to effective and sustainable health care for West African countries, noting that "[i]f we take anything away from the worst outbreak of Ebola in human history, the lesson we must learn is that investing in global public health initiatives and supporting public health infrastructures in failed and failing states where disease, conflict, and poverty go hand in hand not only protects indigenous populations, but protects the global community as a whole."