THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of an impending Ebola outbreak that could spread beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) boarders in what the international health organisation has described as a public health emergency of international concern.
By Michael Gwarisa
The declaration followed a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for EVD in the DRC. The Committee cited recent developments in the outbreak in making its recommendation, including the first confirmed case in Goma, a city of almost two million people on the border with Rwanda, and the gateway to the rest of DRC and the world.
At the moment countries at high risk include Uganda and DRC but chances of the virus spreading to other countries is very high and countries have been cautioned to avoid the shacking if hands and other risky behaviours.
Speaking on the development, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the risk of the Ebola virus spreading within the region was very high.
Although there is no evidence yet of local Ebola transmission in either Goma, DRC or Uganda, these two events represent a concerning geographical expansion of the virus. Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in DRC and the region remains very high, and the risk of spread outside the region remains low.
“WHO does not recommend any restrictions on travel or trade, which rather than stopping #Ebola, can actually hamper the fight. Such restrictions force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing the potential for the spread of disease,” said Dr Tedros.
This was the fourth meeting of the Emergency Committee since the outbreak was declared on 1 August 2018.
The Committee expressed disappointment about delays in funding which have constrained the response. They also reinforced the need to protect livelihoods of the people most affected by the outbreak by keeping transport routes and borders open. It is essential to avoid the punitive economic consequences of travel and trade restrictions on affected communities.
“It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use the PHEIC as an excuse to impose trade or travel restrictions, which would have a negative impact on the response and on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region,” said Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the Emergency Committee.
Since it was declared almost a year ago the outbreak has been classified as a level 3 emergency – the most serious – by WHO, triggering the highest level of mobilization from WHO. The UN has also recognized the seriousness of the emergency by activating the Humanitarian System-wide Scale-Up to support the Ebola response.
In recommending a PHEIC the committee made specific recommendations related to this outbreak.
“This is about mothers, fathers and children – too often entire families are stricken. At the heart of this are communities and individual tragedies,” said Dr. Tedros.
“The PHEIC should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help.”