Tuesday July 23, 2019

WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Not a Public Health Emergency Despite its Spread from Congo to Uganda

The current Ebola outbreak in DRC has killed more than 1,400 people since it emerged last August

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FILE - An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April, 16, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization decided on Friday not to declare an international public health emergency over the Ebola outbreak, despite its recent spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda.

The WHO’s emergency committee described the outbreak as “an extraordinary event” of deep concern, but said it does not yet meet the criteria to be designated an international emergency.

The panel has only used the label “public health emergency of international concern” four times since the committee was formed in 2005. Those included the swine flu pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that begin in 2014, and the Zika virus in 2016.

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People coming from Congo have their temperature measured to screen for symptoms of Ebola, at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda, June 14, 2019. VOA

The designation usually triggers more funding and political awareness about the situation. The current Ebola outbreak in DRC has killed more than 1,400 people since it emerged last August. This week the virus spread to Uganda and there are worries the outbreak, which is also close to the borders of Rwanda and South Sudan, could spread to other countries.

ALSO READ: Ebola Outbreak in Uganda Raise Fears of Spread First Time Beyond Congo

The acting chair of the WHO emergency committee, Preben Aavitsland, said Friday that as long as the outbreaks continue in Congo, “there will be a risk of spread to neighboring countries.” However, he said, “the risk of spread to countries outside the region remains low.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that he accepted the panel’s advice. Tedros, who is in DRC to review the Ebola response, told reporters that “although the outbreak does not at this time pose a global health emergency, I want to emphasize that this outbreak is very much an emergency” for those who are affected by the disease. (VOA)

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WHO: Ebola Epidemic in Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

WHO said that since the Ebola epidemic was declared last Aug. 1, there have been more than 2,500 cases, including nearly 1,670 deaths

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A Congolese health worker administers ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Center in Goma, July 17, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces a public health emergency of international concern.

The declaration by an emergency committee at WHO headquarters in Geneva elevated the disease and the efforts needed to combat it to a significantly higher level of concern. Nevertheless, committee chairman Robert Steffen cautioned against overreacting to the meaning of the decision.

“This is still a regional emergency and by no way a global threat,” he said. “And, why this change of opinion … there is concern about the spread of Ebola from Goma, a gateway, even though so far no cases were newly infected in the city.”

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FILE – Mwamini Kahindo, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, DRC, March 25, 2019. VOA

On Sunday, the first case of Ebola was discovered in Goma, a city of 2 million.  The pastor infected with the virus later died.  Steffen said the recurrence of intense transmission in Beni, an earlier epicenter of the disease, and the recent killings of two Ebola health workers were among other factors that fed into the committee’s decision.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that the risk that the disease could spread in the DRC was very high but said that the risk of spread outside the region remained low.

No curbs on travel, trade advised

Although the committee declared Ebola to be a global health emergency, Tedros said WHO did not recommend any restrictions on travel or trade.

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A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center on July 15, 2019 in Goma. VOA

Such restrictions “can actually hamper the fight,” he said. “Closing borders could have disastrous consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the people who cross the border every day for trade, education or to visit relatives.”

ALSO READ: Children Under Five at Higher Risk of Ebola Outbreak; Represent One-third of Current Total Cases

WHO said that since the Ebola epidemic was declared last Aug. 1, there have been more than 2,500 cases, including nearly 1,670 deaths. This is the 10th outbreak of the disease over the last four decades in the DRC. It is the second-largest outbreak after the 2014 historic epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people.

WHO said insecurity due to conflict in North Kivu and Ituri provinces and tepid international financial support were the main impediments to stopping the Ebola virus. (VOA)