WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has declared the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), through a WHO press release on Wednesday (7/17).
This declaration was made during a meeting session of the International Health Regulations and Emergency Committee for EVD in DR Congo. Other than the declaration, the committee has expressed dissatisfaction with funding setbacks, hindering response to the outbreak. With the PHEIC being declared, many hope that it will push wealthy donor countries to donate more. Aside from that, they have also stated the importance of protecting people’s livelihoods in the region; stressing to not close down borders and transport routes.
Public Health Emergencies of International Concern or PHEIC is a term used only for high-level threats to public health and has only been used four times by the WHO, including the Ebola Outbreak that happened across Western Africa between 2014 and 2016 that took 11,000 casualties. WHO has been hesitant in issuing the term, despite the fact that EVD has reached the neighbouring country of Uganda and killed around 1,400 people.
The declaration happened a few days after the Ebola outbreak that has been plaguing the Kivu and Ituri region, reaching the major city and transportation hub of Goma with 2 million people living in the city, a development that has been feared by health experts for quite some time. As of this point estimates of the infected range from 2,500-2,700 people with around 1,700 casualties, the second largest since the outbreak that happened between 2014-2016.
Handling the spread of EVD in DR Congo is difficult, and this is exacerbated by ongoing conflicts, such as the one in the Ituri region which have not only assisted in spreading EVD but also other diseases like malaria and cholera. In addition, there is a lack of trust towards healthcare workers, leading to a third of the deaths caused by EVD happening outside of the treatment centres.
Photo: Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from the surface of a Vero cell | Credit: NIAID under licence (CC BY 2.0)