WHO Finally Declares Latest Congo Ebola Outbreak International Health Emergency; Organization’s Been Criticized for Slow Response

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday that the latest deadly outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is officially an international health emergency after the disease spread to a city with a population of 2 million people this week.
  • WHO “defines a global emergency as an extraordinary event which constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.”
  • WHO has been criticized for not declaring this outbreak an emergency sooner, but WHO documents revealed that the organization “held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.”
  • WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said: “It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system.”
  • Dr. Tedros added: “Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”
  • According to experts, “a declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.”
  • In a scenario that health experts had feared for months, Ebola was confirmed in Goma, which is a major regional thoroughfare “in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border with an international airport.”
  • The first time the current Ebola outbreak crossed borders was when a family contracted the disease after a burial in Congo and returned to Uganda.
  • The risk of Ebola spreading beyond the region, however, remains low, but Dr. Tedros warned: “The (international emergency) should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help.”
  • This is the fifth time in history that a disease has been declared an international health emergency. The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that claimed more than 11,000 lives received such a declaration.
  • Global health expert Alexandra Phelan said: “This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support.”
  • However, she “warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions.”
  • Phelan added: “Those restrictions would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counter-productive.”

Reference Links

  • AP: Ebola outbreak in Congo declared a global health emergency READ
  • BBC: DR Congo Ebola outbreak declared public health emergency READ
  • World Health Organization: Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern READ
  • TIME: The U.S. Helped Defeat Ebola in 2014. Now, We’re Watching a Crisis Become a Catastrophe READ

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