Nepal | July 05, 2020

UN says Ebola outbreak in Congo still not a global emergency

Associated Press
Share Now:

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Friday said the Ebola outbreak in Congo — which spilled into Uganda this week — is an “extraordinary event” of deep concern but does not yet merit being declared a global emergency.

The UN health agency convened its expert committee for the third time to assess the outbreak, which some experts say met the criteria to be designated an international emergency long ago.

This outbreak, the second-deadliest in history, has killed more than 1,400 people since it was declared in August. Three members of the family who brought the virus into Uganda have died after attending the burial of an infected relative, a popular pastor, in Congo.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Dr Preben Aavitsland, the acting chair of the committee, announced that the outbreak is “a health emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” but that the situation should not be declared a global one.

For such a declaration, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated response. The declaration typically triggers more funding, resources and political attention.

Women coming from Congo wash their hands with chlorinated water to prevent the spread of infection at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo in western Uganda Friday. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi)

Aavitsland said the committee was “deeply disappointed” that WHO and the affected countries have not received the funding needed to stop the outbreak and delivered a blunt message to donors: “Step up.”

WHO said $54 million is needed.

Aavitsland added that declaring an emergency could have “unintended consequences” such as airlines stopping flights or governments closing borders.

“It was the view of the committee that there is really nothing to gain by declaring a (global emergency) but there is potentially a lot to lose,” he said.

The outbreak, occurring close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other. Mistrust has been high in a region that had never faced Ebola before and attacks by rebel groups have undermined aid efforts. Several health workers have been killed.

On Thursday, WHO’s emergencies chief acknowledged the agency has been unable to track the origins of nearly half of new Ebola cases in Congo amid the challenges, suggesting it doesn’t know where the virus is spreading.

Friday’s announcement quickly drew criticism from some experts.

“I respect the advice of the emergency committee but do believe a public health emergency of international concern would have been justified,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, one of Britain’s biggest donors and a funder of Ebola vaccine research. “The epidemic is in a frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon,” he said in a statement.

Congo’s health minister, Dr Oly Ilunga, told The Associated Press that WHO’s decision to not declare the outbreak a global emergency was a testament to the country’s response efforts, which he called “effective.”

In Uganda, authorities said the country now had just one suspected Ebola case, who had no contact with the infected family and remained in isolation. They did not give more details. Ninety-eight contacts with infected people have been identified. The health minister on Friday asked Ugandans not to shake hands or otherwise touch each other “until we are Ebola-free.”

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University, said the legal criteria for declaring Ebola a global emergency have long been met, even before the virus reached Uganda.

“Given that we are still seeing daily numbers of cases in the double digits and we do not have adequate surveillance, this indicates the outbreak is a persistent regional risk,” she said.

Phelan said she was concerned WHO might have been swayed by political considerations.

As the far deadlier 2014-16 Ebola outbreak raged in West Africa, WHO was heavily criticized for not declaring a global emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died and the virus had spread to at least three countries. Internal WHO documents later showed the agency feared the declaration would have economic and social implications for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Dr Axelle Ronsse, emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, was unsure whether a declaration would help. She said outbreak responders, including WHO, should reevaluate their strategies to contain the spiraling outbreak.

“It’s quite clear that it’s not under control,” she said. “Now may be the time to reset and see what should be changed at this point.”


Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

Locusts devour crops on 1,100 hectares

KATHMANDU, JULY 3 Desert locusts have damaged crops cultivated on 1,100 hectares of land across the country. According to the Locusts Information Centre, eight districts have reported damage caused by locusts till date. Of them, Dang is the worst hit and Palpa the least. The locusts devoure Read More...

World Bank elevates Nepal to ‘lower middle income economy’

Country saw its GNI per capita rise to $1,090 in 2019, but economists says it doesn’t mean much in terms of development KATHMANDU, JULY 3 Nepal is now officially a lower-middle income country, an upgrade from its previous status as low income nation, according to the World Bank’s latest coun Read More...

Oli, Dahal in bid to save NCP unity

If the two co-chairs fail to act as per the spirit of the party unity document, maintaining party unity will be difficult  - NCP leader Mani Thapa KATHMANDU, JULY 3 Co-chairs of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) — Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli — held talks for thr Read More...

Kailali's Bhajani Municipality, Joshipur Rural Municipality inundated

KAILALI, JULY 3 Bhajani and Joshipur of Kailali have been inundated after floodwaters gushed into the settlements. According to eyewitnesses, many houses in Wards 2, 3, 6 and 8 of Bhajani Municipality have been inundated. Local Ganga Chaudhary said floodwaters from local Kandra and Kadha ri Read More...

Ministry develops guidelines for rehab centres

KATHMANDU, JULY 3 The Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens has developed guidelines for operation of rehabilitation centres to ensure that vulnerable persons at the centres do not contract COVID-19. MoWCSC said the new guidelines would be effective until Nepal was declared coronavir Read More...

Nepali Congress Ram Chandra Paudel

Country pushed into crisis: Paudel

DAMAULI, JULY 3 Senior Nepali Congress leader Ramchandra Paudel said sudden prorogation of the Parliament was unfortunate for the nation. “At a time when the nation is fighting a deadly disease, the decision to prorogue the Parliament has pushed the country further into the crisis,” said t Read More...

Holding centre in Khotang

KHOTANG, JULY 3 A 10-bed holding centre has been established in Diktel, the district headquarters of Khotang, for returnees. According to Chief District Officer and District COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre coordinator Shaligram Sharma Poudel, Nepali Army personnel and Red Cross staff jointly Read More...

Visit Nepal 2020 mascot, yeti

Former Visit Nepal secretariat seeks more budget from Tourism Ministry

KATHMANDU, JULY 3 Even after the government has scrapped the secretariat of the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, the secretariat has submitted more unpaid bills to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA). Addressing a press meet today to unveil the ministry’s work progress dur Read More...