World Health Organization stops short of declaring latest Ebola outbreak a global emergency

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A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. Bordering nations have been preparing for the disease's spread beyond the DRC's borders.

As the Democratic Republic of Congo sufferes through an Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said it was not yet a global emergency.

"It's legitimate for countries to raise these concerns, but the basis on which WHO and its emergency committee should be looking at is the risk to public health and the risk of worldwide spread", Phelan said.

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While the worldwide body has declared four global health emergencies before, including the swine flu outbreak in 2009, polio in 2014, Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2014 and zika virus in 2016, this is the third time it declined to declare the Ebola outbreak in Congo as a public health emergency.

To be declared a global emergency, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated response.

Such a decision usually means getting more money and healthcare workers to tackle an outbreak - or political support to stop the fighting to let medics get the job done. Public distrust of outside personnel and support is hindering the identification and vaccination of Ebola contacts, available vaccine stockpiles are steadily dwindling and not being used as they should, and the WHO, UN, AU and DRC actions have so far have proven to be insufficient in containing and extinguishing the current crisis.

"It was the view of the committee that there is really nothing to gain by declaring a (global emergency) but there is potentially a lot to lose", he said.

Ian Vale, a regional director for Save the Children in east and southern Africa, said the outbreak's spread into Uganda was a clear warning that not enough was being done to curb the virus. This, coupled with the fact that local rebel groups have continued to attack aid groups, have made it increasingly hard to contain the spread of the virus.

While Ugandan health workers aren't facing the violent attacks that have killed several Ebola responders in Congo, they remain at risk as they seek to isolate, test and treat for the virus.

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A second person infected with the Ebola virus has died in Uganda, the health ministry said on Thursday, after a family exposed to the disease quietly crossed the border from Congo. An announcement is expected Friday evening.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking by telephone from Kampala, said: "The spread of Ebola to Uganda is a new development but the fundamental dynamics of the outbreak haven't changed".

Congo's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga, told The Associated Press that WHO's decision to not declare the outbreak a global emergency was a testament to the country's response efforts, which he called "effective". What's more, we must rethink every piece to this response and ensure we are viewing every detail from the community aspect; that we are addressing the awful humanitarian situation in North Kivu, DRC and we are doing everything we can to gain the trust of the community.

Four people with suspected infections, however, are still in Uganda and are receiving care at the Bwera Ebola treatment center, and 98 contacts are being monitored.

The outbreak met some of the criteria for a global emergency as it was both an extraordinary event and risked worldwide spread.

"No evidence yet. But we're not out of the woods yet", he said, noting that the incubation period is up to 21 days.

Those included the swine flu pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that begin in 2014, and the Zika virus in 2016.

Addressing the worldwide community, he added, "Step up funding".

Dr. Axelle Ronsse, emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, was unsure whether a declaration would help.

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