Congo's Ebola outbreak to worsen without stepped-up response: World Health Organization committee

Alicia Farmer
October 20, 2018

The WHO's emergency response chief, Peter Salama, previously told HuffPost that this has been the "most hard context" for dealing with an Ebola outbreak ― ever.

Following an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee meeting, the WHO concluded that the outbreak is of high regional importance, but is not now a global threat - and due to strong government leadership and a robust international response team already in place, there was no "added value" to declaring a PHEIC, they said.

Steffen noted that global partners are working on the ground with WHO and the Ministry of Health.

Robert Steffen, Chair of the Emergency Committee, also voiced "some optimism" that the outbreak would be brought under control within a "reasonable time".

Ebola has claimed 139 lives in DR Congo since an outbreak started almost two months ago in North Kivu, a border region where numerous militia are fighting over the central African country's rich natural resources.

The WHO said Wednesday that 216 cases of Ebola and 139 deaths had been reported, and its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee said the outbreak was a matter of serious concern, especially since it is occurring in an area of conflict in eastern DRC. Most of the newly confirmed cases have been in Beni, where there has sometimes been violent resistance to outbreak responders. It is estimated by the United Nations that more than a million civilians under threat from armed groups, are internally-displaced in North Kivu; around 500,000 this year alone.

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In a press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, went through the criteria the Emergency Committee considers when declaring a public health emergency of worldwide concern.

When asked about reports that the CDC had pulled workers from the DRC, Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "U.S. security guidelines are stricter".

"We will not rest until the outbreak is finished".

The agency also declared a public health emergency of global concern in February 2016 over the Zika virus.

An Associated Press investigation found World Health Organization delayed declaring the outbreak to be a global emergency for months, partly out of fears such an announcement would anger the African countries involved or hurt their economies.

The WHO also decided not to declare a PHEIC over the last Ebola outbreak, which ultimately killed 33 people in the DRC's Équateur province earlier this year, due to the quick response and deployment of an experimental vaccine.

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