Tuesday, 17 September, 2019

Congo Ebola outbreak is declared a global health emergency

Ebola vaccine 1st Ebola death confirmed in DRC's Goma
Samantha Long | 20 July, 2019, 16:08

The World Health Organization's director-general has declared the current Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo an global health emergency.

A World Health Organization panel is debating whether to declare the outbreak "of worldwide concern", a designation that the agency's head suggested a case this month in the large Congolese city of Goma had made more likely.

And the country's volatile security situation is complicating matters, as Al Jazeera's Catherine Soi reports from Nairobi. In early June, a few cases were confirmed in neighbouring Uganda, and now he disease has reached Goma, a large city on the border with Rwanda, sparking fear that one of the deadliest diseases on Earth could spread across the region.

However, besides recommending a PHEIC and making specific recommendations related to this outbreak, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for Ebola virus disease in the DRC on Wednesday also expressed disappointment about delays in funding which have constrained the response.

A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration, but other experts say the outbreak has long met the conditions. The virus is most often spread by close contact with bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms and with contaminated objects such as sheets.

World Health Organization has held off on making the emergency declaration on three previous occasions, but the confirmation of a case in North Kivu's capital Goma escalated the crisis.

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"The PHEIC should not be used to stigmatise or penalise the very people who are most in need of our help".

Instead, at risk countries were advised to increase level of preparedness and surveillance for quick detection of imported cases including mapping out health facilities and active surveillance with zero reporting. Since January, there have been nearly 200 attacks on staff and clinics, with seven health workers killed. The virus has since been detected in neighboring Uganda.

This was the fourth meeting of the emergency committee since the outbreak was declared on August 1, 2018. But one fish store owner who she had dealt with had locked up his shop and could not be traced, nor could his four attendants or brother, and fellow traders were refusing to share his phone contact, the ministry said.

The WHO committee's chairman, Robert Steffen, tempered the outbreak's designation as an emergency by saying it remained a regional, rather than a global threat, and stressed that no country should react to Ebola by closing borders or restricting trade.

"I am vaccinated and I protect myself against Ebola", said Zoe Kibwana, a 46-year-old shoe salesman who does business in Uganda, just 70km from Beni.

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