WHO declares Ebola outbreak in Congo a global health emergency

July 18, 2019

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history in the Democratic Republic of Congo a “public health emergency of international concern”. The Ebola crisis has so far affected 2,500 people in the region since August 2018 – more than 1,600 of them have died and new cases are still being reported every day.

While the PHEIC emergency provision is WHO’s highest level of alarm and has only been used four times previously, including the Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,000 people in parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016,the organisation did not request that borders be closed. Despite isolated cases in neighbouring Uganda, the risk of the disease spreading outside the region was not high.

Ebola is characterised by a sudden, viral fever, a sore throat, intense weakness, and muscle pain that gradually progresses to vomiting, diarrhoea and internal/external bleeding. The unfortunate patients die from dehydration and multiple organ failure. Infections typically occur through direct contact with broken skin, air droplets or bodily fluids of someone with Ebola.

An effective vaccine was developed during the epidemic in West Africa and has been available throughout the latest outbreak for those who were in contact with an Ebola patient, and people who came into contact with them – already some 161,000 people have been vaccinated.

However, tracking and tackling the disease has been complicated by rife conflict in the region and general mistrust of healthcare workers.  There have been numerous attacks against healthcare workers or Ebola treatment facilities, even as a third of deaths are being reported in the community rather than at a specialist centre.

Trish Newport, from the charity MSF, said of this challenge, “Foreigners have to build ties and connections with the local community so they trust us.”

Meanwhile, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has appealed for global concern – WHO has estimated that it needs US$98million to tackle the outbreak between February and July 2019, butis short by a surprising US$54million.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies echoed, “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.”

Category: Community, Features

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