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article imageCongo's Ebola outbreak may be declared global emergency

By Karen Graham     Apr 12, 2019 in Health
Butembo - World Health Organization officials are meeting to decide whether an Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo that’s killed 751 people constitutes a public-health emergency of international concern.
Emanuele Capobianco, head of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said Friday he’s “more concerned than I have ever been” over the spike in the number of cases of Ebola, citing Congolese health ministry statistics showing 40 new cases over two days this week. He says this is "unprecedented," reports NBC News.
The deadly virus was first reported on August 1 and has become the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, behind the 2014-2016 outbreak that left more than 11,000 people dead when it swept across three West African countries.
A UN peacekeeper patrols outside an Ebola treatment centre in Butembo in northeastern Democratic Rep...
A UN peacekeeper patrols outside an Ebola treatment centre in Butembo in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo
WHO’s independent Emergency Committee is expected to announce their decision on whether the epidemic should be considered a global health emergency today at a press conference. According to Reuters, declaring the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” would allow for greater resources and international coordination, as well as providing international trade and travel restrictions.
“They will look into what is the risk of international spread, has this risk got bigger since the last time they met, and what is the capacity of the response,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a Geneva news briefing.
Ebola outbreak is the biggest Congo has ever seen
The Ebola outbreak has been centered in Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The outbreak has already infected at least 1,206 people, of whom 764 have died - giving a death rate of 63 percent. In the latest statistics, 20 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, including two workers at the Butembo airport who tested positive for the virus.
The red marks show the provinces in north Congo where Ebola is epidemic. Notice how close the outbre...
The red marks show the provinces in north Congo where Ebola is epidemic. Notice how close the outbreak is to the borders of other countries.
Efforts have been hindered from the very start of the outbreak by a lack of local medical infrastructure and more problematic - attacks by armed groups that operate in the region against health workers. Additionally, many local people try to avoid health workers out of fear and/or distrust.
This has made it very difficult to get people to take precautions and decontaminate themselves and their surroundings. Worse still, “Ebola is now spreading faster, and many people are no longer seeking care,” the Red Cross said, reports Bloomberg. “It is clear that some vulnerable communities do not trust Ebola responders.”
The outbreak in Congo right now is close to the borders of Uganda and Rwanda, with South Sudan not far away. Trish Newport, Doctors Without Borders’ representative in Goma, a city not far from the outbreak, says declaring an international emergency won't necessarily stop the outbreak.
Factfile on the Ebola virus
Factfile on the Ebola virus
John Saeki/Adrian Leung, AFP
“Bigger is not necessarily better,” she said. Doctors Without Borders thinks it is better for patients to be treated in existing health centers rather than Ebola-specific clinics: “It’s very clear that people do not like or trust the Ebola centers and they are not coming to be treated.”
Newport also points out that 75 percent of the cases so far, have no obvious link to previous patients. This indicates that health officials have lost track of where the virus is spreading. But this is probably because of the fear and mistrust of people.
This latest statistic goes along with what the CDC said in November 2018. According to Digital Journal, the CDC said at least 60 to 80 percent of cases identified at that time had no known epidemiological link to prior cases. The rate of new infections was also increasing.
More about Who, Ebola, emergency decree, Democratic Republic of Congo, regional spread
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