Health in Africa

WHO declares Ebola outbreak in Congo a global health emergency

The declaration was made after case was registered in Goma city, which shares a border with Rwanda

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Thursday 18 July 2019
Ebola outbreak
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Ebola outbreak in Congo a global health emergency and demanded that the world redouble its efforts to control it.

This decision came after 2,512 cases of Ebola surfaced in Congo and 1,672 people died since August 1, 2018. The emergency committee also “expressed disappointment about delays in funding which have constrained the response”.

The July 17 declaration is the fifth such public health emergency since 2005 after H1N1 influenza virus pandemic (2009), resurgence of wild poliovirus (2014), west Africa Ebola virus outbreak (2014) and Zika virus outbreak (2018).

What an emergency

After an Ebola case was registered in Congo’s Goma city, which is not only home to more than 2 million people but also shares borders with Rwanda, it was feared that the deadly virus can cross borders.

“There is cause for concern linked to the recent case in Goma, as the city is a provincial capital with an airport that hosts international flights,” said WHO.

The risk is very high at national and regional levels, but still low at global level, said the international public health body.

The situation in Congo is alarming since 80 new cases are being reported every week. “The recent travel to and from Uganda of a local trader, who later died of Ebola, demonstrates that the risk remains high for bordering countries,” WHO said in a statement.

“The virus has extended geographically but transmission is not as intense. However, the situation in Beni remains difficult and worrisome, especially as the proportion of community deaths rise,” it added.

While number of cases in Butemo and Mabalako have increased, the epicentre has moved from Mabalako to Beni this time.

What the world needs to do

Countries facing the emergency and those vulnerable to it are legally required to strengthen and maintain their surveillance and response capabilities at local, intermediate and national levels, and at designated airports, ports and ground crossings.

The recommendations include carrying out medical examinations and vaccinations, placing suspected patients under public health observation, observing quarantine, isolating or tracing contacts of affected persons, carrying out exit screening and refusing entry to suspect or affected person.

However, this should not lead to any kind of stigma. “It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use the health emergency 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 the committee while declaring the emergency.

The committee also highlighted that there was shortage of vaccines in Congo. An “experimental Ebola vaccine” known as rVSV-ZEBOV proved highly protective against the deadly virus in a major trial in Guinea in 2015. It is, however, being used in response to the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo using a ring vaccination protocol.

“The ring vaccination strategy is proving efficient and successful. Issues related to vaccine supply were reviewed. Vaccine supply and availability data were presented and show that vaccine supplies are currently insufficient, thereby necessitating the introduction of an adjusted dose,” the committee said about the vaccine.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) has a very high fatality rate — 50 per cent. Case fatality rates have varied from 25 per cent to 90 per cent in past outbreaks

The WHO said though there is no proven treatment but simple interventions, including rehydration with fluids and body salts (given orally or intravenously), and treatment of specific symptoms such as low blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhoea and infections, can improve chances of survival.

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