The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo a “public health emergency of international concern”. The international body has said that the risk of the disease spreading beyond the region was not high, BBC reported.
The World Health Organization’s provision of public health emergencies of international concern is the highest level of alert of the international body and has been sounded four times earlier. The first case in North Kivu’s capital Goma, which has a population of over a million, was detected this week.
The outbreak started in August 2018 and has affected two provinces – North Kivu and Ituri. Over 2,500 locals were infected with the disease and two-thirds have died. In 224 days, the number of cases had reached 1,000 and 71 days later the number rose to 2,000. Around 12 new cases are reported every day.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system. 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.” He also accepted suggestions that no restrictions should be placed on travel, or trade, and that travellers need not be screened at the entry point at ports or airports.
The declaration was also welcomed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “While it does not change the reality on the ground for victims or partners engaged in the response, we hope it will bring the international attention that this crisis deserves,” a statement said, according to BBC.
This is reportedly the second biggest Ebola outbreak after the epidemic in West Africa, where 28,616 cases had been detected and 11,310 deaths were recorded in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016. The spread of the disease to Uganda, along the Rwandan border, and the relapse in DRC’s city of Beni increased concerns of the international body. “The geographical expansion is now 500 km,” Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the IHR emergency committee on Ebola in DRC told The Guardian.
This was reportedly the fourth instance where the World Health Organization had considered sounding the alarm for a global health emergency. While it had stopped short of doing so the last three times, aid agencies and health officials had been urging the organisation to make the announcement so that funds could be generated. Continuous violence against health officials has also been a cause of great concern with the murder of two Congolese workers in Beni last week, The New York Times reported.
Ebola is a virus that causes sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat in the initial stages. However, it escalates to vomiting, diarrhoea, internal and external bleeding. Infection occurs after coming into direct contact with the blood, vomit, faeces or bodily fluids of someone suffering from Ebola. Patients reportedly die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure.