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An Associated Press investigation has discovered that the obstacles faced by the World Health Organization and other responders in their efforts to prevent the spiraling Ebola outbreak last summer in Kenema were avoidable.
As per internal WHO emails, documents and AP interviews, their efforts were hampered by poor management, lack of basic protective gear and bureaucratic infighting.
They made a number of critical mistakes. The first mistake was the questionable chlorine. WHO obtained the disinfectant locally in Sierra Leone. Kenema Government Hospital officials many times found that the chlorine had expired or that the containers had their tags ripped off and expiration dates were missing. WHO’s Sierra Leone representative in an email asked for a criminal investigation into the defective disinfectant, which was the key to limiting exposure to the virus.
Another mistake was that the health care workers were put at risk as over 40 health staffers died, 20 were diagnosed with the infection during the delayed construction of an Ebola clinic, meant to lighten pressure on Kenema’s hospital. Many of doctors were not properly trained about using protective equipment. They worked in an Ebola ward, which was so unsafe that help agency ‘Doctors Without Borders’ asked for its closure.
Delayed construction was another mistake made by them. When the Red Cross offered to construct an Ebola clinic in Kenema, no one in Sierra Leone’s government or WHO told them where to build it due to which by the time it opened, the outbreak in Kenema was at peak.
The issue of ‘no body bags’ was among other mistakes made by them. In August 2014 starting, an internal WHO report noted that the ‘supplies of body bags have completely run out’, which was a quite important information as the bags limit exposure to the corpses of Ebola victims, which are highly infectious. By the end of the month an official tried to arrange delivery of around 100 body bags to Kenema but was blocked for hours by government bureaucracy and when got released, the bags were delayed again as the driver was not able to reach a sleeping police superintendent for clearance through a checkpoint.
Besides these, there were many other mistakes made by them, including, tight-fistedness, shaky power supply, weak leadership, doctored data, no transportation, and infighting.