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.

Global Interests, Local Failures

Peruvian miners turn rain forest into wastelands. Corruption and mismanagement keep West Africans from clean drinking water. Hear these and other stories from international journalists who are mapping the impact of globalization on people and the planet.

Join us Thursday evening, April 12, for a panel discussion on what it takes for journalists to accurately tell international stories that have economic, scientific, cultural, political and public health impact; and how these complex, global subjects are still being covered well, even as journalism reinvents itself online and via social media. Our panelists will be:

Ameto Akpe is the foreign affairs and energy correspondent for BusinessDay newspaper in Nigeria. Akpe’s recent reports expose mismanagement of the country’s water resources.
Stefanie Friedhoff (moderator) is special projects manager at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. A 2001 Nieman Fellow, she also is a freelance journalist and science writer for U.S. and European media.
Tom Hundley is senior editor at the Pulitzer Center. He spent 21 years at the Chicago Tribune, including 18 years as a foreign correspondent that took him to more than 60 countries.
Cristine Russell is a science writer with three decades of experience. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Journalism Review, a correspondent for, and president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. She is an adjunct lecturer at HKS and senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs.
Stephen Sapienza is an Emmy Award-winning news and documentary producer who has reported human security stories from across the globe for PBS NewsHour, Al Jezeera, and CNN. His recent work focuses on the impact of extractive industries and access to clean water.

This program is part of the Nieman Foundation’s collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C., and will feature two ongoing Pulitzer Center reporting projects:

Global Goods, Local Costs,” which assigns journalists around the world to trace the hidden costs for both people and the environment of the rising demand for raw materials used to produce consumer goods.

Waiting for Water,” which pairs U.S. journalists with West African colleagues to follow up on promises by governments and aid organizations to improve water and sanitation and pushes for more accountability from all involved.

Thursday, April 12, 7-9 p.m.

Walter Lippmann House
1 Francis Ave.
Cambridge, Mass.

A wine and cheese reception will follow the discussion.