Outbreak of Ebola not global emergency

Maricruz Casares
Abril 15, 2019

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was worsening as trust in the response effort faltered, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo took place on Friday, 12th April, 2019, from 13:00 to 17:20 Geneva time (CET).

The WHO has only declared global emergencies on four previous occasions, including the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic, where roughly 11,000 people died.

Congo's health ministry on Thursday reported 1206 confirmed and probable cases, including 764 deaths.

The WHO's independent Emergency Committee, which analyzed the latest data, said the disease was entrenched in several epicenters in the northeast and was being transmitted in health care settings.

"Although there was great concern about some rising numbers in some regions, the outbreak has not spread internationally", said committee chief Robert Steffen on Friday. He did not give details but said experts were "moderately optimistic" the outbreak could be contained within a "foreseeable time".

He called that rate unprecedented in the current eight-month outbreak.

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"It was an nearly unanimous vote that this would not constitute a PHEIC (public health emergency of worldwide concern) because we are moderately optimistic that this outbreak can be brought into control - not immediately, but still within a foreseeable time", panel chairman Professor Robert Steffen told a news conference.

Dr. Steffen said in this case, the WHO decided there was "no added benefit" from labeling it an worldwide emergency, but he did say the organization will need more than $100 million in extra cash for the fight. The outbreak in Congo right now is close to the borders of Uganda and Rwanda, with South Sudan not far away.

He cites lack of trust about Ebola treatment in the community and insecurity caused by rebel groups that has hurt aid efforts.

Rebecca Katz, a global health security expert at Georgetown University, in a statement called WHO's decision disappointing, saying the United Nations agency and its experts were "taking too narrow of an interpretation" of what constitutes an worldwide emergency.

Ahead of the announcement, Trish Newport, Doctors Without Borders' representative in Goma, a major crossroads city close to the outbreak, said that declaring a global emergency wouldn't necessarily help stop the epidemic.

"Bigger is not necessarily better", she said. Many new Ebola cases aren't linked to previously identified patients, and numerous people are dying in the community rather than in health centres where they might be isolated to prevent further infection. However, the Committee wished to express their deep concern about the recent increase in transmission in specific areas, and therefore the potential risk of spread to neighbouring countries.

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