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article imageWHO decides today to call Ebola an international emergency

By Sandy Dechert     Aug 8, 2014 in World
An emergency committee of international health experts at the World Health Organization in Geneva has announced its decision to declare a global health emergency because of the four-country Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The team has been meeting for two days, since August 6, to decide on an international approach to the accelerating African hemorrhagic fever. They first received an up-to-date epidemiological briefing and have been working on its implications since then.
Australian reports that “one possible response is to list the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern.” This is the action that has been taken. The New York Times reports that this designation “has only rarely been invoked to combat deadly contagions. The classification gives health authorities greater powers that include quarantining people in affected areas.”
Basically, the decision determines whether the Ebola situation amounts to an international public health emergency. The last time CDC took such a precaution was during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. The Emergency Committee will now advise the Director-General on temporary recommendations. We’ll soon see a public summary of the meeting and a press briefing.
The WHO committee also said it would convene a meeting of medical ethicists early next week to discuss using experimental treatments for the disease. The international medical community subscribes to the ancient Hippocratic maxim, “First, do no harm.” The statement from WHO pointed this out, saying that for assessing new medicines, “the gold standard involves a series of trials in humans, starting small to make sure the medicine is safe to use.”
There is no registered vaccine or medicine against the Ebola virus, but several experimental options are under development. One of these, ZMapp (a combination of three monoclonal antibodies) was used to check the disease in two American Ebola health workers (Kent Brantly, MD, and Nancy Writebol, both of whom worked at a Liberian Ebola treatment center when they got sick). They were later flown from Africa to hospital confinement at Emory University in Atlanta for treatment. This use of an experimental medicine has raised questions about whether untested drugs not yet shown to be safe in people should be used in this outbreak and, given the limited supplies, who should receive them if they are used.
On Wednesday the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP; "SID-wrap") reported that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was boosting the response of its emergency operations center to the highest level. This allows the US to dedicate more staff time to Ebola-related activities and to streamline the deployment of staff, medications, and equipment.
"Our movement to level 1 activation is appropriate, given the significance of this outbreak, the extension to Nigeria, and the potential to affect many lives," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told CIDRAP News. CDC can move medications, samples, and personnel within two hours in the US and six hours for international missions like this.
More about Ebola, hemorrhagic fever, Africa, World health organization, Who
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