Ebola Outbreak Remains An International Public Health Emergency, Says WHO Committee
A healthcare worker vaccinates a man against Ebola.

The Director General of the World Health Organization today decided that the smoldering Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should remain a “public health emergency of international concern,” following recommendations from a committee of experts convened under the International Health Regulations.

The last embers of the 1.5 year long outbreak appeared to be dying out, with only 3 cases reported in the past week, and no cases in the past 3 days. The outbreak has been contained to only two health districts.

“As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO at a press briefing Wednesday.

With the WHO and worldwide media attention occupied by the coronavirus outbreak, “we must not forget Ebola,” added the Director General.

“Strengthening a health system may not be as sexy as responding to an outbreak, but it’s just as important,” he added. Dr Tedros will be flying to Kinshasa, DRC tomorrow to meet with president Félix Tshisekedi and discuss plans to further strengthen the country’s capacity to handle health emergencies.

There is a high “risk of resurgence” and a “risk of complacency” if the  PHEIC designation is abandoned, added the chair of the Emergency Committee, Robert Steffen.

Additionally, Steffen pointed to “two dark clouds on the horizon” – one being the continued security incidences that have “compromised the action of the health teams,” and the second being a lack of “solidarity” in the response. Security incidences have continued to be on the rise in the past few months, according to the Emergency Committee’s assessments.

For those reasons, WHO has determined that the risk of national and regional spread is still “high.”

Nonetheless, the Director general said, the “signs are extremely positive” in the Ebola outbreak. It seems likely that all districts affected by the outbreak will reach the 42-day Ebola-free threshold needed to declare the outbreak over by the next time the Emergency Committee reconvenes.

As of 10 February 2020, there were a total of 3431 cases and 2253 deaths. Between 3 and 9 February 2020, three new confirmed cases were reported in Beni Health Zone, North Kivu. More than 2000 contacts were being followed.

The Emergency Committee assessment noted that sustaining progress towards reducing the rate of new cases depended on the security situation and control of the well-known drivers of transmission, particularly in traditional health facilities, and on continued engagement with the community. A risk communication and community engagement programme has been developed, as has an EVD survivors programme.

Image Credits: Twitter: @WHOAFRO.