Ebola outbreak: World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday declared Ebola Outbreak in Congo as an International public health emergency after it threatened to spread to a major city and neighbouring nations. The deadly Ebola virus has killed over 1700 people in Congo.
The Ebola outbreak was first declared in Congo 11 months ago and ever since there have been no signs of it being contained. Though experts were urging WHO to declare a public health emergency since months, the emergency committee of international health experts, which advises WHO, declined to declare emergency three times previously.
Public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)
WHO has now finally declared the Congo Ebola outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) after the deadly virus threatened to spread to a major city near Congo’s international border. PHEIC is defined as an “extraordinary event that is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response. “
The public emergency announcement is the highest level of alarm that is only raised during the gravest of outbreaks. This is the fifth time in history that WHO has declared a public health emergency. The previous declarations were for the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 that took lives of more than 11000 people, spread of Zika virus in Latin America, 2009 Swine flu epidemic and for polio in 2014. WHO only declares a disease or outbreak a global emergency when it threatens to affect other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
Ebola virus, which has already killed over 1600 people in Congo, fits the description aptly. Though backed by a major vigilance and vaccination campaign, the Ebola virus was mostly confined to two provinces in Congo’s northeastern region, the deadly virus has now spread to Goma city, which is home to almost two million people. Goma also shares a boundary with Rwanda. The outbreak is considered to be Congo’s worst-ever outbreak.
How will the declaration of Public health emergency help?
The declaration of a global health emergency will bring larger international focus on the alarming issue and it will also help bring in more financial and technical support. At the same time, the declaration can cause governments of neighbouring nations to panic and overreact by shutting down borders.
Countries at most risk
According to WHO, countries that are most at risk for the spread of deadly Ebola virus include Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi. The countries that stand a little less risk of Ebola outbreak include Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Zambia and Tanzania.
Ebola outbreak in Congo and threat to neighbouring countries
Ebola outbreak was first reported in Congo in early 2018. The virus was largely contained in two northeastern provinces of Congo. However, the virus has now threatened to spread into one of Congo’s heavily populated cities, Goma and also into neighbouring nations.
The first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma this week and last week a family is reported to have brought the virus into Uganda after they attended a burial of an infected relative in Congo. Goma shares a border with Rwanda and has an international airport.