The World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters building in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 .
Raphael Satter — AP
March 20, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

Top officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) dragged their feet in declaring the Ebola outbreak an emergency, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Internal documents from the U.N’s health agency revealed that officials at its Geneva headquarters were aware of how serious the Ebola outbreak was, but continued to put off calling it an emergency due to a number of concerns, including the effect on the economies of the affected countries, and the impact on the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

By the time the WHO did call the outbreak an emergency nearly 1,000 people had already died, the AP reports. The WHO is the only group that can declare a health emergency of international concern.

Declaring the epidemic an emergency might have spurred international attention and resources much earlier, possibly saving lives. In an emailed comment to the Associated Press, the WHO said: “People often confuse the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern with our operational response. It is very different. WHO mounted a strong operational response a year ago when we were notified the outbreak was Ebola.”

Read the entire report at the Associated Press.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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