Details of why WHO declared Ebola in Congo DR a Public Health emergency have emerged

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, first declared on August 1 2018 in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has now been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The declaration was made by WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday.

“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” said Dr. Tedros. “Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”

The declaration issued at the end of the meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) Emergency Committee for Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 17 July 2019, unanimously agreed that the disease has met the criteria to be declared PHEIC.

The IHR Committee, in advising the Director-General on the declaration, cited recent events in the outbreak of EVD in the country as reasons for the decision.

Such events included the importation of the disease into Goma, a commercial epicentre that borders Rwanda, with a population of about 2 million; the worsening situation of EVD in Beni, compounded by local beliefs and practices and insecurity that threaten responses to the disease.

Furthermore, Goma has International Airport and serves as the gateway to other regions of the world – which unfortunately may help to propagate EVD internationally.

But what then is PHEIC?

“An extraordinary event that poses a public health risk to other countries through international spread and that potentially requires a coordinated international response.” 

Definition of Public Health Emergency of International Significance | Source: WHO

By this declaration,WHO can now raise more money both locally and internationally to fight the outbreak of the disease.

It was the fourth meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee held since EVD was declared in Congo DR in the year 2018. Though the disease was classified as level 3 by WHO, the IHR Emergency Committee had refrained from calling it PHEIC until now.

A level 3 emergency is considered most serious, necessitating highest degree of mobilisation from WHO.

Kindly note that there were specific recommendations that accompanied the declaration.

“It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use the PHEIC as an excuse to impose trade or travel restrictions, which would have a negative impact on the response and on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region,” said Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the Emergency Committee.

WHO Director-General advised that the declaration should not be used as basis for stigmatisation or penalise those who are in most need of help.

He said:

“This is about mothers, fathers and children – too often entire families are stricken. At the heart of this are communities and individual tragedies. The PHEIC should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help.”

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona

Samuel Abiona is a medical doctor by training and a writer by passion. Samuel holds a postgraduate degree in Public Health. He believes that communicating medical knowledge goes beyond writing technical reviews. Samuel thus uses his expertise in public health and health systems research to transmit technical information for both academic and general audience. Please email samuel.abiona@essaysinhealth.com to contact this author directly or use the contact page and your information will be passed on to him.