Congo's Ebola outbreak might be declared global emergency

A healthcare worker from the World Health Organization prepares to give an Ebola vaccination in Mangina Democratic Republic of Congo. File

A healthcare worker from the World Health Organization prepares to give an Ebola vaccination in Mangina Democratic Republic of Congo. File

Despite the escalating crisis, a WHO emergency committee stopped short of declaring a public health emergency of worldwide concern (PHEIC) on Friday - a formal classification used to identify a health crisis with potentially global consequences. It has become the second-deadliest in history, behind the West African one from 2014-16 that killed more than 11,300 people.

IFRC's Director of Health and Care, Emmanuele Capobianco, called it a "distressing development" saying that the virus was spreading faster and many people were no longer seeking care.

Ebola is a virus that can spread quickly and can be fatal in up to 90% of cases.

Congo's health ministry on Thursday reported 1,206 confirmed and probable cases, including 764 deaths, since the outbreak was declared on August 1. While there is no licensed treatment for Ebola, receiving early care such as rehydration and treatment of other symptoms helps to improve survival chances. "This is particularly worrisome given that - unlike the Ebola response in 2014-15 - this effort has the benefit of a highly effective vaccine that can prevent the disease's spread". Additionally, many local people try to avoid health workers out of fear and/or distrust.

This warning follows confirmation of 18 new Ebola cases on Tuesday, April 9 - the highest single-day figure in the now eight-month-long outbreak. Multiple rebel groups are active in Congo's northeast, killing hundreds of people in recent years.

Some residents have been on edge because health workers are accompanied by armed guards from the United Nations peacekeeping mission or Congo's security forces.

He also explained that the record-breaking week still ongoing in the DRC was partly because World Health Organization responders were allowed more access to communities and transmission chains in hot spots, such as Katwa, which means they were able to identify and reach more patients. Notice how close the outbreak is to the borders of other countries.

World Health Organization was criticised for not declaring the 2014 Ebola outbreak an worldwide emergency until almost 1000 people had died and the disease had spilled across borders.

Some residents have rejected Ebola vaccinations and fled, or attacked health teams.

Throughout the press conference Steffen, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, and assistant director-general Mike Ryan, MD, emphasized that recommending against a PHEIC was not a sign of complacency or a failure on the part of the WHO to take the outbreak's latest spike in cases seriously.

It's hard to say. "The committee is also expected to give updated recommendations on how global health officials should manage the outbreak..." As complications keep appearing, the time frame is pushed back.

The WHO has declared a global health emergency, which affects surveillance, trade and travel, only four times since 2005.

Tariq Riebl, who is based in a current Ebola hot spot, Butembo, for the International Rescue Committee, said a major obstacle to stopping the outbreak is that officials are simply unaware of how many Ebola cases there are.