WHO declares DRC Ebola outbreak a ‘global health emergency’

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The New York Times

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called the year-old outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, The New York Times reported.

The declaration, made by a panel of experts, follows news this week that the deadly infectious disease had spread to Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.

Earlier this week, a preacher with Ebola arrived by bus to the city of 2 million, which is near the border with Rwanda. He has since died, WHO confirmed.

And as of Monday, the outbreak in the Congo has infected 2 512 people and killed 1 676 of them, the Times reported.

Declaring the epidemic an emergency is a rare step for the WHO, which typically reserves the move for outbreaks that could severely affect public health and/or spread to other countries.

Such declarations typically spur increases in global attention and aid.

Wednesday’s meeting was the fourth time experts have convened to assess the threat level since the outbreak began.

However, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the Associated Press that the spread of Ebola to Goma was a potential “game-changer”.

The Congo outbreak of Ebola is now the second largest ever recorded, with the largest being the West African epidemic of 2014-2016. That outbreak – also declared a global emergency at the time – infected nearly 29 000 people and caused over 11 000 deaths.

Some experts believe the emergency declaration for the Congo epidemic has been long overdue.

Speaking to the Times, Josie Golding of the Wellcome Trust, a London-based research charity, said resources in Congo to fight the epidemic have been “overstretched and underfunded”. She believes that WHO upping the threat level will “help raise international support and release more resources – including finance, health care workers, enhanced logistics, security and infrastructure.”

Indeed, WHO said that since February it has so far gotten $49m from international donors, just half the necessary funding needed to put up a sufficient response. There are reports of aid workers going without the necessary protective gear, and medical staff reusing syringes and gloves, the Times said.