WHO appoints ex-UNICEF health expert to head new emergency unit

The World Health Organization (WHO) logo is pictured at the entrance of its headquarters in Geneva, January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) has named a public health expert with experience of Middle East trouble spots to head a health emergencies unit set up after the UN agency was severely criticized for its response to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

Peter Salama, an Australian epidemiologist who is currently UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, will take up his post next month, the WHO said in a statement.

The health emergencies program was set up after the WHO was accused of “egregious failure” in its handling of the Ebola crisis, in which more than 11,000 people died as the viral disease spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The new unit is designed to provide rapid support for any country or community facing a health emergency arising from disease, natural or man-made disasters or conflict, the WHO said.

A specialist health panel last year said the Ebola epidemic had caused “immense human suffering, fear and chaos” which went “largely unchecked” by the WHO’s leadership.

Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Richard Balmforth