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DRC Ebola outbreak now a Public Health Emergency, UN health agency declares - July 17, 2019

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  • DRC Ebola outbreak now a Public Health Emergency, UN health agency declares - July 17, 2019

    DR Congo Ebola outbreak now a Public Health Emergency, UN health agency declares

    17 July 2019


    The second worst Ebola outbreak of all time, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was officially declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Wednesday, with the head of the World Health Organization calling for countries to ‘take notice and redouble our efforts”.

    With the first anniversary of the complex outbreak in the volatile eastern part of the country looming, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that it was time to “work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system”, for its people.

    So far, there have been more than 2,500 cases of infection, and nearly 1,670 have died in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, where multiple armed groups and lack of local trust have hampered efforts to get the outbreak under control.
    “Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances”, said Mr. Tedros, following the fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee assessing the outbreak, at the UN in Geneva. “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 added.
    What does the emergency declaration mean?

    According to WHO’s International Health Regulations, which constitute a binding legal agreement involving 196 countries across the globe, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is defined as, “an extraordinary event which 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”.
    This definition implies a situation that is:
    • Serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected.
    • Carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border.
    • May require immediate international action.
    According to a WHO statement, the Committee “cited recent developments in the outbreak in making its recommendation, including the first confirmed case in Goma, a city of almost two million people on the border with Rwanda, and the gateway to the rest of DRC and the world.”
    The Committee also issued specific conclusions and advice to affected countries, their neighbours, and for all States, in terms of how the outbreak needs to be dealt with moving forward.
    Protect livelihoods and keep trades routes open

    The Committee also said it was disappointing that there had been recent delays in securing more international funds to fight the disease, which had constrained the response.
    Members also reinforced the need to protect livelihoods of the people most affected by the outbreak by keeping transport routes and borders open. The experts said it was “essential to avoid the punitive economic consequences of travel and trade restrictions, on affected communities.”
    “It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use (the declaration) 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 Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the Committee.
    On Monday, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock, who heads the humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA), said that the outbreak would not be properly contained without a “big scale-up in the response”. Last month, the first cases appeared in neighbouring Uganda, although the infected family had travelled across the border from DRC.
    Since it was declared almost a year ago the outbreak has been classified as a level 3 emergency – the most serious – by WHO, triggering the highest level of mobilization. The UN overall has also recognized the seriousness of the emergency by activating the “Humanitarian System-wide Scale-Up” to support the Ebola response.

  • #3
    IHR Emergency Committee on EVD DRC North Kivu
    Speech by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

    17 July 2019

    Thank you, Professor Steffen,

    Good evening everyone in the room, and to everyone online.

    Thank you, Professor Steffen once again for your leadership of the Emergency Committee, as well as all the members of the committee, and the advisors and those who made presentations during today’s deliberations.

    As you know, over the weekend a man from Butembo took a bus to Goma, a city of two million people on the border with Rwanda, and the gateway to the rest of DRC and the world.

    On his arrival in Goma, the man, a pastor, visited a health center where he was diagnosed with Ebola. He has since died.

    Separately, last Thursday a woman with Ebola symptoms from DRC crossed the border to buy fish at a market in Uganda. On Friday she was diagnosed with Ebola and treated in DRC. She too has died.

    Although there is no evidence yet of local transmission in either Goma or Uganda, these two events represent a concerning geographical expansion of the virus.

    As a result of this concern for potential further spread, the committee recommended that I declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, and I have accepted that advice.

    Our risk assessment remains that the risk of spread in DRC and the region is very high, and the risk of spread outside the region is low.

    I have also accepted the committee’s recommendations for DRC, its neighbours and all countries, which you can read in the statement.

    In particular, I emphasize that WHO does not recommend any restrictions on travel or trade, which rather than stopping Ebola, can actually hamper the fight.

    Closing borders could have disastrous consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the people who cross the border every day for trade, education or to visit relatives.

    Such restrictions force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing the potential for the spread of disease. They will also serve no useful purpose – already there have been more than 75 million screenings for Ebola at border crossings and other checkpoints.

    We call on all countries, companies and individuals to support DRC by respecting those recommendations.

    Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of DRC, not to impose punitive and counter-productive restrictions that will only serve to isolate them.

    The government of DRC is showing exceptional transparency in sharing information every single day. It was the DRC government which informed Uganda about the family with Ebola that crossed the border last month. It was the government of DRC that informed the international community immediately last week that there was a case in Goma.

    The government of DRC is doing everything it can. They need the support of the international community.

    That includes its financial support.

    As we said very clearly after the last Emergency Committee meeting, a PHEIC is not for fundraising, it’s for preventing the international spread of disease.

    WHO is not aware of any donor that has withheld funding because a PHEIC had not been declared.

    But if that was the excuse, it can no longer be used.

    We are now finalizing the fourth Strategic Response Plan for this outbreak, which will outline the resources needed for the next phase of the response. We don’t have an exact sum yet, but it will run to the hundreds of millions.

    Unless the international community steps up and funds the response now, we will be paying for this outbreak for a long time to come.

    Finally, I want to commend the Government of the DRC for its commitment and cooperation, and to His Excellency the President who has visited the affected area, and has formed an inter-ministerial committee to ensure the whole government is focused on the response.

    I also want to honour the hundreds of responders from the government, partners and our own staff, who as we speak are putting themselves in harm’s way to serve others.

    More than ever, they need our support.

    Thank you.
    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela