Ebola: WHO's next Africa chief elected

2014-11-05 17:18

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Cotonou - As Ebola continues to burn its way through three West African countries, the World Health Organisation on Wednesday elected its next Africa director, a doctor from Botswana who is a long-time veteran of the UN agency at a meeting in Benin.

In Sierra Leone, where the epidemic is currently particularly strong and where treatment centres need to be urgently built, one built by Britain was finally opening outside the capital Wednesday.

The centre in Kerry Town includes an 80-bed facility to be managed by Save The Children and a 12-bed unit, which will expand to 20 beds over the coming months, for health care workers and international staff who become infected by Ebola. This smaller one will be staffed by British army medics.

"We are expecting the first patients today," said Helen Mayelle, a Save the Children spokesperson. The centre will gradually become fully operational over the coming weeks.

Future Ebola outbreak

The announcement of the election of WHO's new Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, was made by Senegalese Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck, who chaired the vote.

Moeti expressed optimism that the outbreak, which has killed nearly 5 000 people, would be under control within three months.

"I hope that the [Ebola] situation will be improved by the time I take office in February 2015," Moeti said. She said the health systems in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been devastated by the epidemic and would need to be rebuilt and that readiness for any future Ebola outbreak must be improved, including warning systems and monitoring capabilities.

Representatives from WHO's 46 African member countries — usually members of health ministries — voted in a secret ballot for the regional director. Elections in UN organisations give member countries a say in who the leader is.

WHO Africa's outgoing leader, Angolan doctor Luis Sambo, was criticised for initially bungling WHO's response to the biggest Ebola outbreak in history.

Lack of accountability

In an internal draft document obtained by the Associated Press last month, WHO blamed its staff in Africa for initially botching the response to Ebola.

Dr Donald A Henderson, who ran WHO's smallpox eradication program in the 1970s, said WHO offices often lack accountability and that past elections were based on political trade-offs, not merit.

Moeti previously led the epidemiology department in Botswana's Health Ministry as well as its Aids department and joined WHO Africa as a regional adviser for women's and adolescent health. She was previously head of WHO's Malawi office and was WHO Africa's deputy regional director until March.

Sierra Leone has seen a rapid increase in cases in and around the capital in recent weeks, and the country is desperately short on space to treat people. Britain's Department for International Development, which funded the Kerry Town centre, says there are only 326 beds in Sierra Leone. This is in a country that has routinely reported around 350 cases per week over the last several weeks.

The Kerry Town centre also hosts a laboratory, run by British scientists, to test for the disease. It is the first of six centres that Britain plans to build.

Read more on:    un  |  who  |  ebola  |  health

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