Ebola outbreak in DR Congo declared a global health emergency

Ebola vaccine

Ebola vaccine

News of the incident came as the WHO's emergency committee of worldwide experts met for a fourth time to decide if the 11-month outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of global concern" (PHEIC).

It would be only the fifth such designation, after 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.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who convened the emergency committee after viewing the Goma case as a "potential gamechanger", said the designation as an global emergency was not meant to suggest that some countries had been withholding funds and would now unlock them.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday's declaration was long overdue. Last month this outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative.

The committee had been under pressure from many experts who felt the scale of the outbreak and the risks meant it had to be given the emergency status - only the fifth such disease outbreak since the World Health Organization introduced such designations in 2005.

The decision is meant to spur a stronger response from the worldwide community in hopes of ending the outbreak, which has proved hard to contain due to a humanitarian crisis DRC, attacks on health care workers and rampant misinformation within the country. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and "might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk".

World Health Organization has already begun using smaller doses to ration supplies and the committee recommended taking "all measures to increase supplies", including contracting supply to other manufacturers and transferring Merck's technology.

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Wednesday's announcement prompted fear in eastern Congo, where many do business across borders and travel overseas.

"Ebola is not rocket science, it's very simple", he said. But he added it could also lead to countries closing their borders with DRC.

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.

The health response relies on tracking down people who may have been exposed to the virus and vaccinating them and anybody they have had contact with. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus.

Congolese health workers collect data before administering ebola vaccines to civilians at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. At three prior meetings on the topic, the WHO declined to declare the outbreak an worldwide public-health emergency.

"What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people", he told the Geneva meeting.

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