Merkel Urges Faster Global Response to Ebola-Like Crises

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Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a faster global response to health crises such as West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, saying the push is on her agenda as Germany presides over the Group of Seven nations.

Three weeks before hosting her G-7 peers in Germany next month, Merkel told a World Health Organization meeting Monday that the agency’s unwieldy structures hampered its response.

“The Ebola catastrophe in West Africa has been a painful reminder to all of us how urgently we have to take international action in a crisis,” Merkel said in a speech to the WHO’s annual assembly in Geneva. “The lesson that we need to draw, all of us, is we ought to have reacted far earlier.”

Fighting disease and environmental damage are among the topics Merkel is promoting at the annual meeting of the leaders of seven advanced economies at a resort in the Bavarian Alps on June 7-8. The other G-7 nations are the U.S., Japan, Canada, the U.K., France and Italy.

Germany is contributing 200 million euros ($228 million) to strengthening health systems, including 70 million euros for the West African countries hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic, Merkel said.

While the WHO is the only organization with “universal political legitimacy on health issues,” its decentralized structure, with 150 country offices and six regional offices in addition to its headquarters in Geneva, made it slow to react to Ebola, Merkel said.

Global contingency plans need to include other United Nations agencies, the World Bank, aid groups and national governments, she said.

WHO’s executive board agreed in January to create a special fund to respond to outbreaks, and to set up a global emergency workforce after its handling of Ebola exposed weaknesses in its response to health emergencies.

“I’m convinced that if we react faster, if we act faster and if have clear a command structure in place, we will be better equipped,” Merkel said.

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