Peter Piot: “Health is too important to be left to doctors and ministers of health.”

What can we learn from the painfully slow response to the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, which by the way is still ongoing in West Africa? Is there still a place for the World Health Organization and its bureaucratic delays in a world of fast moving diseases and experienced on-the-ground organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, which fielded the initial response to the outbreak in West Africa more or less on its own?

At the invitation of Boston-based Management Sciences for Health, I’ve had a great conversation about the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak and the future of epidemic preparedness with veteran infectious disease hunter Dr. Peter Piot of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Dr. Jonathan Quick, president and CEO of MSH.

“Health is too important to be left to doctors and ministers of health,” Peter Piot said about the need for pandemic preparedness to go beyond ministers of health — who are the delegates at WHO — and bring more powerful members of governments into the fold.

“The world needs a WHO. […] I’ve been very critical of WHO, they dropped the ball in a massive way and there is no excuse as far as I can see… […] but the last thing we need is a new organization. In this multilateral system we need mergers & acquisitions, not new institutions.”

Asked about the three most important things that need to change now to improve WHO’s ability to respond swiftly to a crisis, Piot listed these:

1) The committee that decides about international health regulation should be shielded and independent, and all its meeting notes should be immediately posted on a website to create transparency.

2) There needs to be a team in charge of epidemics at WHO that reports directly to the director general. At the moment, it is not clear at all who is in charge. One of the problems with this epidemic was the lack of clarity and agreement on strategy, which is very important. This is not something you want to discuss when you take all these decisions.

3) This team should be very well integrated with a reserve corps, all the people who can be deployed [in an epidemic.] Because you can’t have a massive group of people be ready all the time. You need a core group connected to others who will come in [as needed.]

Here is the full video.