An emergency meeting of United Nations health experts reported that the Ebola outbreak in north-west Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – where cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed in an urban area – does not yet meet the criteria to be deemed a “public health emergency of international concern.”
But the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee advised the Congolese Government and all other actors to remain engaged in a “vigorous response” and called on the international community to support the efforts already taking place.
Who is the WHO Emergency Committee?
The WHO Emergency Committee is composed of 11 international technical
experts from various parts of the world, nominated by WHO member States.
It is convened under the International Health Regulations – the legally
binding international instrument on protection of lives endangered by the
global spread of diseases and other health risks.
“Without this, the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly,” read the Public Health Advice issued by the Committee, which also called for global solidarity among the scientific community and for international data to be shared freely and regularly.
An outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was declared in a remote town in DRC’s Equateur province on May 8th. Since that time at least one case has been confirmed outside the initial reported area. On May 17th, a patient in the provincial capital, Mbandaka, was confirmed as having contracted the disease.
According to WHO, 45 cases have been reported, of which 14 had been confirmed, 10 were “suspected” and 21 “probable.”
The Emergency Committee also decided that if the outbreak “expands significantly, or if there is international spread,” it will reunite to take further action.
Both the site of the outbreak and Mbandaka City are located on the Congo River, which many consider the main route in which goods are transported where and people in the region connect.
No Need to Ban Travel or Trade
The Committee emphasized that while there should be no international travel or trade restrictions, the DRC’s neighboring countries should strengthen their readiness.
“Exit screening, including at airports and ports on the Congo River, is considered to be of great importance; however, entry screening, particularly in distant airports, is not considered to be of any public health or cost-benefit value,” the committee report stated.
Immediate Response Needed
UN agencies and their partners on the ground have escalated their response to contain the outbreak and support treatment of those suspected of or having contracted the Ebola virus.
WHO has also brought in vaccines against the disease, bringing the total number of doses available to 7,500 people.
However, transporting them to affected areas in a safe and temperature controlled manner is a major challenge as roads are often treacherous and electricity is scarce.
This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC, a country where the virus is endemic. The virus causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated. First symptoms generally include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting and diarrhea.
An outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014 left more than 11,000 dead across six countries, and was not declared officially over by WHO until the beginning of 2016.