November 5, 2014 / 1:30 PM / 4 years ago

WHO veteran elected as head of Africa office amid Ebola criticism

COTONOU (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) elected a longtime veteran of the U.N. agency as the head of its Africa office on Wednesday, amid criticism of its handling of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

A WHO spokesman said that Botswana’s Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, a former deputy director of the WHO’s Africa office (AFRO), had been chosen to lead the organization’s regional branch at a meeting in Benin.

Moeti joined the WHO in 1999 as regional adviser for Women’s and Adolescent Health. Before that, she worked in Botswana’s Ministry of Health.

She has also held senior positions within the organization, including a stint as regional adviser on the WHO’s HIV/AIDS program and head of its Malawi office.

The Ebola outbreak, the worst on record, has killed 4,951 people out of 13,567 infected in eight countries.

Most of the deaths have been concentrated in three West African countries: Guinea, where the outbreak was detected in March, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has strongly criticized the WHO’s handling of the early stages of the epidemic, which was coordinated by the AFRO bureau, saying it failed to realize the gravity of the situation.

Diplomats and global healthcare specialists say the WHO’s AFRO bureau, based in Brazzaville, is dominated by the influence of regional governments and has poor coordination with WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The choice of the new head was made during a meeting of WHO regional committee for Africa which comprises health ministers from 47 countries in the region.

AFRO’s outgoing director, Dr Luis Sambo, has strongly denied his bureau was slow to react to the Ebola crisis, saying he immediately sent an emergency coordinator to Guinea, deployed international experts and disbursed money to help the government.

Reporting by Samuel Elijah; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn

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