GOP chairman rips ‘deadly incompetence’ of UN Ebola response

A top Republican is calling for a new strategy to fight Ebola overseas — one that does not rely on the embattled World Health Organization (WHO).

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed the organization for what he called “deadly incompetence” in the battle against the disease.

“Unfortunately, we are paying the price for early failures,” Royce said at a hearing, arguing that the WHO “repeatedly downplayed the crisis.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he has “no confidence” in the WHO.
 
“WHO contributed to the spread of this virus and to a high mortality rate, frankly, because of its cronyism and its incompetence,” Connolly said.

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The WHO is the United Nations' top health authority for the global Ebola effort — crafting strategies, advising on medical protocols and counting infections.

The agency has made “very significant changes” to bolster its response, Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said at the hearing.

“We will work hard with them to scale up their capacity,” Shah said. “Right now we need them to perform, and we’re going to help them reform.”

Royce also renewed his call for temporarily suspending all visas for non-U.S. nationals in West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. The measure has broad GOP support though it has been repeatedly dismissed by Obama administration officials, who argue that travel bans would make it harder to treat the outbreak in Africa.

Shah, the top USAID official, warned against policies like travel bans and mandatory quarantines, which he said were already hurting the response efforts of the United States.

After states like New Jersey issued quarantine policies for returning healthcare workers, USAID was immediately forced to change plans for staffing Ebola treatment overseas because “so many doctors had backed out,” Shah said.

The WHO has been repeatedly criticized for failing to sound early warnings on the disease, which had been raging for months before the agency called for international action.

Royce said the agency’s lack of accountability is largely a result of the “cronyism of the U.N.”

An internal report from the WHO, which was leaked last month, revealed serious missteps in its on-the-ground war against Ebola. The report said "nearly everyone" in the WHO failed to realize the speed and intensity of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Thursday hearing — the second in two days — comes as public fears over the disease in America are subsiding. As of Tuesday, there were no Ebola cases within U.S. borders.

Still, pressure for more funding to stop the disease abroad is growing. Its death toll surpassed 5,000 this week, which includes an alarming new cluster of cases in Mali.

Members of Congress have just weeks to approve the latest emergency funding request for Ebola — a whopping $6.18 billion — before government agencies say they will face a funding gap.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed to “positive signs” overseas but said he strongly supported the additional funding.

“Unfortunately, the significant financial commitments we have already made will not be enough to control this outbreak,” Engel said.

The U.S. has so far spent more than $414 million in the battle against the outbreak.

— This story was updated at 11:20 a.m.