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Ebola Outbreak Declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern

JUL 17, 2019 | CONTAGION® EDITORIAL STAFF
The World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has recommended that WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, declare the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Dr. Tedros has accepted the recommendation, making it official.

The committee convened on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, to vote for the fourth time on whether the outbreak should be designated a PHEIC. 

"The declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern is not a reflection on the performance of the Ebola response team in DRC," the WHO said in a tweet. "It is a measure that recognizes the possible increased national & regional risks & the need for intensified & coordinated action to manage them."

The decision comes on the heels of the spread of the outbreak outside of the North Kivu and Ituri provinces into the city of Goma which borders Rwanda and the neighboring country of Uganda.

According to Tedros, the risk of the spread of Ebola in DRC and region remains high and the risk of spread outside of the region remains low.

Under the declaration, the committee recommends that affected countries:
  • Promote community engagement, awareness, and participation in outbreak response
  • Continue cross-border screening and screening at major checkpoints in order to maintain surveillance of all potential contacts
  • Work with partners, including the United Nations to reduce the threats associated with the outbreak and streamline outbreak response activities
  • Work to reduce the time between case detection and patient isolation and implementation of real-time genetic sequencing to improve knowledge of disease transmission
  • Introduce optimal vaccine strategies
  • Strengthen efforts to reduce nosocomial infections and sustain support to infection prevention efforts and Ebola treatment centers
As of July 16, 2019, there have been 2418 confirmed cases and 1582 confirmed deaths since the Ebola outbreak began on August 1, 2018. 

On Monday, July 15, 2019, the WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs hosted a High-Level Event on Ebola Virus Disease in DRC in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the event, Tedros spoke on the current status of Ebola in the DRC and what needs to be done in order to stop the outbreak, which has been ongoing for nearly 1 year.

In his speech, he highlighted the role that violence has played in derailing outbreak response activities and announced that 2 health workers who were participating in Ebola outbreak response activities in Beni were killed over the weekend.

“Every attack sets us back. Every attack makes it more difficult to trace contacts, vaccinate and perform safe burials. Every attack gives Ebola an opportunity to spread. Ebola gets a free ride in each and every attack,” Tedros said.

Tedros also reflected on the barriers complicating the outbreak, saying, “unless we address its root causes—the weak health system, the insecurity, and the political instability—there will be another outbreak.”

Although Tedros acknowledged the successes of the outbreak response, including vaccination, contact tracing, and traveler screening, he refers to the outbreak as “one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies any of us have ever faced.”
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