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Africa

How to fix the WHO's response to Ebola-like crises, researchers

media Blood of an Ebola survivor being taken as part of a study launched at Liberia's … Reuters/Stringer

The UN is hosting an International Ebola Recovery Conference in New York on Thursday and Friday which aims to help Ebola-affected countries with the support and resources they need to "get to zero, stay at zero and recover". However, this follows a damning independent review of the World Health Organization's response to Ebola, describing the UN body as "not a fit for purpose health emergency agency".

The report criticised the WHO's bureaucratic culture and the delay in declaring a public health emergency. So how can the organisation improve its response to emergencies like Ebola? RFI spoke to researchers at this week's European Conference on African Studies in Paris, which is hosting a round table entitled, "Ebola: African Studies in Times of Emergency"

More engagement with civil society on a local level

Susan Shepler, International Peace and Conflict Resolution School, American University

"As someone who works on the ground in the affected countries, I think the really important message is also working with local communities and not just focusing on the top-down approaches. But thinking about ways in which the big international organisations can connect with local grassroots organisations. A lot of things that were attempted in rural communities were done through arms of the state and therefore ignored by local communities. So this is why I think it's important to work with community-based organisations - I don't mean through their government arms. That's difficult to do, because a lot of governments see those organisations as a check on their own power, or resisting their own power. But I think what we've see is that those issues are usually issues of anthropology and political science, but they really have important health outcomes. And then in turn, important security outcomes, when you think about how these health crises can now move very quickly across international boundaries."

Create WHO regional offices in Africa

Anita Schroven, researcher, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

"I would hope for the subsidiary system really to work well, as in having a West African office and having an African office of WHO, or any other organisation for that matter, who really intertwine and communicate with one another on different levels, certainly with national governments. Also willing and able, with regard to their political mandate, to look into levels that are lower. Basically more local than the national governments because especially with the Ebola epidemic, we have seen national governments that were not ready to face the challenges, not ready to invite international help of whatever level. It could have been regional, it could have been continental, but they were not ready to do that. And this is a question of health governance that we'll have to address seriously. If national governments do not do their part, our system on the international political level is currently geared towards a national government acting in a certain way, but its not always doing that."

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