Congo's Ebola outbreak might be declared global emergency

Henrietta Strickland
April 13, 2019

DR Congo's Health Ministry also reported that 10 died people from Ebola on Tuesday, including eight who died in their communities having not sought treatment and support.

The outbreak announced on August 1 has become the second-deadliest in history, behind the West African one from 2014-16 that killed more than 11,300 people.

"If [an outbreak] stays within a country then by definition it is not of global concern", Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the emergency committee, told a press conference on Friday.

A top Red Cross official said Friday he's "more concerned than I have ever been" about the possible regional spread of the Ebola virus after a new spike in cases, as the World Health Organization met on whether to declare the outbreak in Congo an global health emergency.

Eighteen new cases were confirmed on Tuesday alone, the highest single day figure in the eight-month outbreak, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement.

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.

This outbreak, occurring close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other.

Emergency declarations nearly always boost global attention and donor funding.

"This is a deeply concerning event, due to the pathogen itself, the total number of cases, the increase in cases just this week, and the difficulty of coordinating the response due to conflict - that needs to receive the appropriate level of attention", health experts Rebecca Katz and Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. said in a statement.

WHO considers defines a public health emergency of worldwide concern as "an extraordinary event" that poses risks to multiple states and requires "a coordinated global response".

"Bigger is not necessarily better", she said and called for a new approach, saying that after nine months of the same strategy "the epidemic is definitely not under control".

Ebola cases have spiked in recent weeks and officials are increasingly losing track of where the virus is spreading. Many new Ebola cases aren't linked to previously identified patients, and numerous people are dying in the community rather than in health centres where they might be isolated to prevent further infection.

WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan, who heads the emergencies program, disputed that assessment, insisting that officials are eventually able to connect most Ebola cases to a previous patient after an arduous forensic process.

Experts have declared four emergencies in the past decade: the H1N1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), a major Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014), polio (2014) and Zika virus (2016).

It has already infected at least 1,206 people, of whom 764 have died - giving a death rate of 63 percent.

As of April 9, almost 1,200 cases of the virus have been reported in the affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, with 751 people dead, the World Health Organization said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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