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Critical Choices for the WHO After the Ebola Epidemic

In the aftermath of an unconscionably inadequate response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, this year’s World Health Assembly was seen as critically important to the future of the World Health Organization (WHO). The assembly, the WHO’s decision-making forum, attended by delegations from all WHO member states, offered a historic opportunity for fundamental reform of the organization. A failure to decisively shore up its epidemic response leadership risked the loss of confidence in the WHO for a generation.

When the 68th World Health Assembly convened on May 18, 2015, the WHO was experiencing a crisis of confidence. The assembly took 3 key steps to address the organization’s global health security capacities: it combined the secretariat’s outbreak and emergency response programs, developed a new global health emergency workforce, and created a $100 million emergency contingency fund. What the assembly did not do was address the deep structural problems that have plagued the WHO, undermining its effectiveness.

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