WHO says Ebola situation in Congo not an ‘international emergency’

The World Health Organisation said Friday that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not currently constitute an international health emergency, even though the number of cases is on the rise in some areas.

“The Emergency Committee has come to the conclusion that the current outbreak does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told media following a meeting in Geneva.

The decision “makes no difference to our commitment and our ability to fight the outbreak,” he added.

It is the second time that Tedros has called a meeting of the UN health agency’s emergency committee.

In October, the organisation’s experts had also said the Ebola situation was “very worrying”, but did not constitute an international emergency.

“Although there was great concern about some rising numbers in some regions, the outbreak has not spread internationally,” said committee chief Robert Steffen on Friday.

Furthermore, despite the length of the outbreak, “we consider that it would be no additional benefit” in declaring it an international emergency, “as excellent work is being done on the ground by WHO and many partner organisations,” Steffen continued.

But he called for a redoubling of “efforts to detect cases, identify and follow up all contacts.”

Tedros urged the international community to step up its financial commitment to ending the outbreak.

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“We cannot intensify our efforts if we don’t have enough funds. The current funding gap has meant that we have had to slow down preparedness activities in neighbouring countries,” he said.

Tedros said the total funding gap stood at $104 million (92 million euros) as of July.

The DR Congo declared a tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years last August in northeastern North Kivu province before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.

The epicentre of the outbreak was first located in the rural area of Mangina, but then switched to the town of Beni in a region where mobility is high.
Local organisations say that the number of deaths from the disease is rising.

Since the start of the outbreak, the number of confirmed or probable cases stands at 1,186, of which 751 were fatal, according to the latest WHO data from April 9.

An earlier tally had put the death toll at 690.

The fight against the disease has been hampered in recent weeks by clashes between armed groups.

Furthermore, there is some resistance within communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.

Tedros also said communities needed to get involved in the fight against the disease.

“Without it, we can’t stop the outbreak. We have made progress in recent weeks through dialogue and negotiation.”

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