World Health Organization committee: Congo's Ebola outbreak to worsen without stepped-up response

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In a press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, went through the criteria the Emergency Committee considers when declaring a public health emergency of worldwide concern.

However, the committee remained deeply concerned by the outbreak and emphasized that response activities need to be intensified and ongoing vigilance is critical.

He also emphasized that the WHO will keep in place 250 health workers now in-country fighting the disease.

Public health emergencies were declared for the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009, polio that re-emerged with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Zika fever outbreak in 2016.

Steffen said the outbreak was being tackled with a strong response.

The disease is flaring up in another province, and the response is being concentrated in this area, he said, "so we do have some optimism that this outbreak, just like the one in May, will be brought under control within reasonable time".

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general, said Wednesday that the committee's decision was backed by "good reasons". The WHO has said it could spread at any time to Uganda or Rwanda, although both countries were well prepared. Meanwhile, 18,000 people have been vaccinated against Ebola in Congo, "including 7,000 health/frontline workers and 4,000 children".

Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law, wrote in an email that the WHO committee "should have declared a public health emergency of worldwide concern due to the high level of risk to the Congo and neighboring countries".

Since August, the World Health Organization has deployed more than 250 people in the DRC, and Adhanom Ghebreyesus cited their efforts as a reason for optimism.

"We will not rest until the outbreak is finished".

Now a high-level delegation from the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee of World Health Organization Geneva is in the country and they are visiting the border districts of Kasese, Ntoroko, Bundibugyo and Kabarole to assess further the level of Uganda's preparedness. It is estimated by the United Nations that more than a million civilians under threat from armed groups, are internally-displaced in North Kivu; around 500,000 this year alone.

Another meeting can be called "if the situation changes", he said.

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