The World Health Organization’s response to Ebola in historical perspective
in Global health and the new world order
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Taking the 2014–16 Ebola crisis in West Africa as entry point, this chapter examines the ways in which the World Health Organization (WHO) operates in a world of global health. In the wake of the crisis, much criticism of the situation was directed at the WHO. Why did it not respond faster? And why did it insist on a limited role of guidance and coordination, even once it realized the severity of the situation? The chapter argues that the WHO’s response to the Ebola crisis was a particularly dramatic manifestation of a transformation – in priorities, practices and rhetoric – that occurred in the 1990s as a strategic adaptation to the external pressures of neoliberalism. As a result, the WHO bureaucracy was able to avoid a complete neoliberal turnaround and preserve some of its interests. Most importantly, the WHO was able to maintain its central concern with health at the global level and to redefine its own position in the new ‘global health architecture’ in a way that did not completely marginalize it. But this came with a cost. And the inability to effectively respond to the Ebola epidemic offers one manifestation of what these costs entail.

Global health and the new world order

Historical and anthropological approaches to a changing regime of governance

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