WHO Declares DRC’s Ebola Epidemic a ’Public Health Emergency of International Concern’
By Staff, Agencies
The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a "public health emergency of international concern," a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics.
The Ebola epidemic in DRC, the second deadliest on record, has largely been contained to remote areas, but this week saw a patient diagnosed with the virus in the eastern city of Goma, the first case in a major urban hub.
"It is time for the world to take notice," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, as he accepted the advice of his advisory board to invoke the emergency provision [PHEIC], activated by the UN health agency four times previously.
Those included the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic of 2009, the spread of polio virus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the surge of the Zika virus in 2016.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it "welcomed" the decision.
"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," the IFRC said in a statement.
The Ebola epidemic began in DRC nearly a year ago and has since killed more than 1,600 people.
WHO has on three previous occasions held off making the emergency call for the outbreak centered in the eastern DRC provinces of Ituri and North Kivu.
But the emergence of a case in North Kivu's capital Goma, which borders Rwanda, escalated the severity of the crisis.
Tedros this week called the Goma patient a "potential game-changer," because the city was a "gateway" to Africa's Great Lakes region and the wider world.