A year after the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Ebola outbreak was first announced, the WHO’s decision aims to combat the spread of the deadly disease.
Rabat – The World Health Organization (WHO) demanded greater international support for the DRC when it declared the region’s Ebola epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on Wednesday, July 17.
The first confirmed Ebola case in Goma, a city on the Rwandan border and a major transit hub, last week and recent attacks on community health workers within the region pushed the WHO to make its announcement.
Since the epidemic was first declared on August 1, 2018, the WHO committee overseeing the situation has debated providing the PHEIC label three times, but has stopped short.
With 2500 cases and 1700 deaths, the situation in the DRC is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. The first was the outbreak that spread across West Africa a few years ago and killed over 11,000 people.
“We need to do everything possible now to avoid reaching the scale of the outbreak we saw in West Africa five years ago when more than 10,000 lives were lost before a multi-billion-dollar response brought the cases down to zero,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said at a meeting last week.
The WHO rarely declares a PHEIC – this is only the fifth – with the previous classifications being the West Africa Ebola epidemic (2014), the Zika Virus (2016), a resurgence of polio in some states (2014), and a pandemic flu (2009).
During their meeting, the WHO committee said that insecurity in the region is the greatest concern, especially after the deaths of two community health workers last week.
Since January, there have been 198 attacks against health care providers, including 7 deaths, according to an earlier report by the WHO.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously stated that the attacks need to stop in order for responders to do their work and stop the spread of the virus.
Additionally, the committee concluded the lack of financial and human resources adds to the challenge of responding to the outbreak.
“Unless we get substantially more financial resources immediately, it will not be possible to end the outbreak. Every delay gives the virus an opportunity to spread, which has disastrous consequences,” Lowcock said.
At first, Ebola symptoms are similar to the flu, but they can quickly escalate to internal bleeding, hemorrhaging, and death. The disease is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated items, like needles.
While experimental vaccines and treatments exist and have been used to counter the epidemic’s spread, the WHO said risk remains high nationally and regionally in DRC, though is low globally.
Alongside its announcement, the WHO provided instructions for continued work countering the disease within the DRC as well as calling for greater international help. Dr. Tedros emphasized that international restrictions on trade or travel should not be put in place since this would negatively impact the response and lives of those already suffering the most.
Dr. Tedros said extraordinary work has already been done to counter the spread of this deadly disease, but the world needs to take notice and do even more.