Ebola Shows WHO Needs Revamp, Says UN Reformer Rudd

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AUSTRALIA, Nov 27 – The World Health Organization (WHO) needs reform to prevent a recurrence of crises such as West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said on Thursday.

Rudd is leading a two-year study to suggest ways to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations system and other global bodies, which are often deadlocked by disagreements between states or hamstrung by their internal bureaucracy. The WHO’s Africa office has been widely criticised for its slow response to the Ebola epidemic, which has now killed at least 5,689 people.

The WHO has promised to investigate its handling of the outbreak once the epidemic is over. Rudd said he was seeking practical recommendations to improve the system’s effectiveness, adding he thought the WHO suffered from a “systemic problem” in the way power was shared between its central organisation and regional branches.

“If you do not want this sort of thing to repeat itself then a substantive reform would lie in sufficiently empowering WHO globally to act globally on threats to global public health,” Rudd told reporters in Geneva after briefing diplomats. That is the kind of “too-difficult-to-handle” issue that diplomats are now avoiding, Rudd added.

His commission plans to publish its ideas as it goes along, winding up as the United Nations names a replacement for secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, whose term ends on December 31, 2016. Rudd, 57, said global institutions were coming under unprecedented pressure due to rapid shifts in world power relations, demographics, technology, the emergence of non-state actors and a shrinking funding base. People are increasingly finding ways to work around international organisations, threatening the UN system with “death by a thousand cuts”, he said. “None of us wants to see that happen.”

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