WHO director says it's time for Africa to lead

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan on Monday called the Ebola outbreak in West Africa "the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times." 

"It has many unprecedented dimensions, including its heavy toll on frontline domestic medical staff," Chan told the WHO's Regional Committee for Africa.

Chan said that while the governments in Africa have made great strides in improving their economic prosperity -- and all countries can benefit from a prosperous Africa -- Ebola has delivered a major setback to the continent's progress. 

The current outbreak, however, has forced two issues to finally be addressed -- the need to bolster long-ignored health systems in struggling countries and the need for a cure for a disease that has been in the public's knowledge for nearly 40 years.

Of the latter, Chan said the issue has largely been ignored, "Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay. WHO has been trying to make this issue visible for ages."

Faced with future development agendas, Chan said it's now up to the continent to come up with solutions that are uniquely African.

"Africa needs to seize this new agenda on its own terms," she said. "Frankly, this region has, in the past, suffered from some bad development advice... . In the past, Africa has followed in line with the priorities and strategies defined by global health initiatives, and not always as defined by your own governments and perceived health needs. Now Africa needs to lead."

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