WHO declares Congo Ebola outbreak a global 'health emergency'

Maricruz Casares
Julio 20, 2019

The World Health Organization's director-general has declared the current Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo an worldwide health emergency. "Such restrictions force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing the potential for the spread of disease".

Wednesday's conference marked the fourth time since the DRC outbreak was declared on August 1, 2018, that the WHO's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has met to consider designating the Ebola epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern".

At the United Nations on Thursday, U.K.'s Ambassador Karen Pierce was upbeat about the outbreak, but with some warnings: "This is a problem that is solvable...the vaccines are there". Health care workers are often at risk.

The committee has encouraged neighbouring countries that may be at a heightened risk, to increase preparedness.

Numerous infections were recorded around the city of Beni close to the Ugandan border which has a population of around 800,000, until the latest case in Goma. Health experts have feared this scenario for months.

WHO is committed not just to ending this [Ebola] outbreak, but to strengthening DRC's health system.

"It is important that the world follows these recommendations". By declaring the ebola 2019 outbreak as an worldwide emergency, IFRC has stated it helps expedite relief work in the affected areas by drawing global attention.

This is the fifth such declaration in history.

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The previous global emergencies, under a system introduced after the 2004 Asian SARS epidemic, were the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America. Earlier this month, a woman who traveled to neighboring Uganda was found to have been infected. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration. For such a declaration, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated response.

The decision to declare an worldwide public health emergency is made by a panel of WHO experts.

The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Some health workers have been attacked. 43 people are believed to have been infected including 36 who have died.

But this month a pastor died after travelling to Goma, a city of 2 million and a gateway to other countries in the region.

Uganda confirms its first case, a 5-year-old Congolese child who dies the next day.

The fisherwoman travelled across the border to Mpondwe market on July 11, according to a Ugandan Health Ministry report published on Wednesday by the WHO.

Congo's minister of health resisted the characterisation of the outbreak as a health emergency.

First Ebola death recorded in trading hub of Butembo, a city of nearly a million with links to Uganda. They should have a system in place to detect and manage cases, and ensure they don't spread further, the World Health Organization recommended.

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