About WHO

A model for future outbreak and emergency interventions?

19 May 2015

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa posed a challenge to the World Health Organization and thoroughly tested its ability to respond. Staff from all regions had started volunteering to deploy in July 2014, and in November the WHO Global Policy Group called for increased global commitment through the deployment of teams.

A WHO worker, part of the 'WEST' team, talks with a group of health workers.

The team-based approach aimed at ensuring the relevance, continuity and sustainability of support. In the Western Pacific, Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo was ready to respond. He initiated the Western Pacific Region Ebola Support Team, or WEST, which since has morphed into a collaborative WHO Ebola Support Team.

The idea was simple. Identify the necessary core functions and look for qualified staff to provide them. Decide on length of deployment (6–8 weeks) and determine how many team members would be needed to cover about half a year. Immediately recruit specialized staff from the regional office and country offices for the whole period.

WEST also provided an innovative platform for regional government participation in the Ebola response and since inception seven countries contribute expertise (Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam). This strengthened global solidarity and the relationship between WHO and Member States.

Since the end of 2014, WEST has been working in the Port Loko district in Sierra Leone, a hotspot of EVD transmission, to contribute to achieve the goal of "getting to zero". The team brings crucial expertise in field coordination, surveillance and epidemiology, information management and communication, logistics and administration, and is deployed in close collaboration with headquarters, the Regional Office for Africa and the WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.

WEST works at the district level with local partners under the guidance of the WHO Representative and in coordination with the Regional Office for the Western Pacific. The team is a unique resource, supporting active case finding, managing contact tracing, monitoring and assessing the Ebola situation, providing technical guidance and data for decision-making, providing situation reports and other information products.

The final evaluation of the WEST initiative has yet to be completed, but it is already clear that the experience in Port Loko may well provide important lessons in building capacity in WHO for outbreak response.