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Aid Group: Poor Global Response Worsened Ebola Epidemic

MSF volunteer receives training on how to handle personal protective equipment during Ebola response courses, Brussels, Oct., 15, 2014.

On the first anniversary of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, a leading medical group is decrying the missed opportunities for preventing this deadly disease from spinning out of control in West Africa. In a bit of soul searching, Doctors Without Borders has issued a critical analysis of the global response to this crisis.

The report spares no one. Everyone comes in for criticism, including the authors of the study. The report by Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, is based on interviews with staff involved in the organization’s Ebola intervention.

MSF Medical Director Micaela Serafini tells VOA that in hindsight, it is now clear MSF should have mobilized its resources and response to the epidemic more quickly. She says the group probably held back from acting more decisively because of World Health Organization accusations that its warnings of the severity of the disease were alarmist.

“They did not take us seriously at that point in time even though we had been working for quite a long time in Ebola - nine different countries, 20 different outbreaks," said Serafini. "We knew that this was different. The geographical location was completely different to the ones that we were used to. The number of hotspots was different. The idea of this going beyond borders was different. So, we really knew that this was an outbreak that was going to go out of proportions if not tackled correctly."

The epidemic that has been raging in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has proved to be uniquely catastrophic. The Ebola virus has infected nearly 25,000 people and killed more than 10,000. These deaths include almost 500 health workers, among them 14 MSF staff.

One year after Ebola was confirmed in Guinea, the report says an atmosphere of fear and the level of misinformation circulating in the West African countries continue to hamper the fight to halt the virus.

Dr. Serafini says it is uncertain whether Ebola will remain an endemic disease in the area. But she adds there is a strong possibility that sporadic cases will appear from time to time.

“Generally, and what we know is that whenever there is an Ebola outbreak, we generally have a second or third, without knowing exactly the period of time between outbreaks. ... I do believe we are in a better position," said Serafini. "I do believe there are plenty of lessons learned. So, I do believe there is quite a lot of knowledge that has been shared …and today, we are much more conscious internationally about the disease.”

Doctors Without Borders warns significant challenges remain before the outbreak can be declared over. It says there is no room for mistakes or complacency.

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