WHO declares Ebola emergency situation in DRC

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of Ebola in DRC as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) after an Ebola case was reported in Goma, DRC.

PHEIC’s are declared during an outbreak when the risk of the disease spreading to other countries is high.

With the spread of the disease to Goma, chances of the deadly disease spreading to Rwanda and Uganda are high according to WHO.

This follows recommendations made on Wednesday in a meeting by the Emergency Committee of the WHO.

The committee advised the Director-General of the WHO Dr Tedros  Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The confirmed case of Ebola in Goma was of a pastor who had travelled from Butembo-one of the areas that has been struggling with the outbreak of the disease since last year.

More than 2,500 cases have been reported with over 1600 deaths reported since the outbreak was declared last year.

Dr Tedros  Adhanom Ghebreyesus says efforts to fight the outbreak have to be doubled to put an end to the outbreak. He calls upon all countries and international partners to support the fight to end the disease.

“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together to end this outbreak and build a better health system. I emphasize that WHO does not recommend any restrictions on travel, which can actually hamper the fight. We call upon all countries, companies and individuals to support DRC by respecting these recommendations,” Ghebreyesus said.

This was the fourth meeting held since the outbreak was declared last year. The committee cited the confirmation of an Ebola case in Goma as the main reason why they decided to label the outbreak a PHEIC.

Over two million people live in Goma which borders Rwanda and is a major business hub in the DRC.

The emergency committee has only termed outbreaks as PHEIC four times.

These included; the swine flu pandemic of 2009, the poliovirus spread in 2014 and the 2014 to 2016 Ebola epidemic of West Africa and the Zika virus of 2016 in Brazil.

Professor Robert Steffen, the chair of the Emergency Committee says people should not use the PHEIC as an excuse to close border and impose travel restrictions on persons that have travelled to the DRC.

“It is crucial that states do not use the PHEIC as an excuse to impose trade or travel restrictions, which would have negative impact on the response and on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region,” Steffen said.

According to Dr.Micheal Ryan, the Executive Director WHO Emergencies Programme, a total sum of $233 million has been budget for the public health operation so far but is open to changes.

The committee recommended that strengthening of community awareness continued cross border screening and strengthening of surveillance to reduce community deaths.

Neighbouring countries like Uganda are being advised to improve preparedness for detecting and managing imported cases. Countries are also being advised to increase risk communications especially at all points of entry.

The committee is also recommending the use of other experimental Ebola vaccines like that developed by Johnson and Johnson to increase the number of vaccines available for vaccinations.

The vaccine is currently undergoing Phase 1B human trials in Uganda.

Out of the nine countries that border DRC, only Uganda has reported cases of Ebola. No case has been reported in Central African Republic, Congo, Angola, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia.