Europe Ebola

Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, arrives for a conference on Ebola in Brussels on March 3. WHO's handling of the Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 10,000 people in West Africa has been heavily criticized. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)

The World Health Organization (WHO), criticized as being slow and poorly coordinated in its response to West Africa's Ebola outbreak, has commissioned an independent expert panel to asses its handling of the deadly epidemic.

The Geneva-based United Nations health agency was sharply criticized for failing to heed repeated warnings by the medical charity Médcins Sans Frontières in the early days of the epidemic, which quickly grew to become the largest in history.

Ebola has now killed nearly 10,000 people in the three worst-affected countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and infected more than 24,200 people since the outbreak began in Guinea a year ago.

Rates of new infections have come down swiftly in recent months, however, and Liberia last week released its last known Ebola patient from hospital.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan promised late last year to allow a full, independent investigation of the WHO's handling of the crisis when the outbreak had been brought under control.

The independent panel will be chaired by Barbara Stocking, formerly head of the British arm of the international charity Oxfam and currently president of a college at Cambridge University, the WHO said in a statement.

Other members include experts in health emergencies and disasters, public health and biomedical research and come from various countries including the United States, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

The panel will publish an initial first progress report on its findings in May.