GENEVA — Experts meeting in emergency session at the World Health Organization agree the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.
The experts say the Ebola outbreak does not pose a global threat since the deadly virus has not crossed any international borders. But they warn this is no time to sit back as the epidemic continues to spread. It says efforts to contain the disease must be redoubled.
The assessment follows a warning issued Friday by top Red Cross official Emanuele Capobianco who expressed concern about a possible regional spread of the Ebola virus after a recent spike in cases in the DRC.
The recent spike in Ebola infections has seen the number of cases rise to 1206, including 764 deaths. The current upsurge has occurred in remaining epicenters of the disease in conflict-ridden North Kivu province, notably in Butembo, Katwa, Vuhove and Mandima.
The WHO says these areas have been off limits because of insecurity, seriously hindering the Ebola response. Because of the lack of access, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergency Program, Mike Ryan, says the WHO has fallen behind in starting vaccination rings.
“Vaccination is proving to be a highly effective way of stopping this virus. But if we cannot vaccinate people, we cannot protect them. We can also not get people out to Ebola treatment units. If someone stays in the community with Ebola and begins to have diarrhea or bleeding, they will infect their families. So, getting an Ebola patient to safe and effective treatment center is also very important,” Ryan said.
In the last few days, Ryan says aid workers have been able to get back into these Ebola-affected communities. He says they have been able to begin vaccinations and implement other crucial Ebola-control measures.
The current Ebola outbreak is the worst ever in DRC and the second largest recorded after the 2014 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.
The WHO expert committee recommends scaling up community dialogue and participation of traditional healers to lessen community mistrust and gain its acceptance.
Because of the high risk of regional spread, the committee advises neighboring countries to accelerate current preparedness and surveillance efforts.
The WHO is appealing to the international community to support its Ebola-control operation. It says it desperately needs $148 million to keep the operation running until July. It warns it will not be able to end the epidemic if it does not have the money to implement essential programs.