WHO declares Ebola epidemic in DR Congo an international emergency

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Based on the recommendation of a World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee today, the group's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, declared that the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Ebola outbreak is a public health emergency of worldwide concern (PHEIC).

In a statement published on Wednesday, July 17, WHO announced that a Public Health Emergency of International Concern has been declared in the DR Congo Ebola outbreak.

This week the first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border with an worldwide airport.

The declaration was made following a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting of its emergency committee in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday.

Emergency declarations are issued sparingly.

Mark Green, administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the U.S. has contributed almost $100 million to the fight and will keep up its efforts.

Internal documents later showed World Health Organization held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.

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In other developments today, the Uganda's health ministry and the WHO released details about the DRC woman who visited Uganda, then died from Ebola after she returned home. The first death from the virus, that of a pastor, was confirmed this week. Last month, the outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that the case in Goma was a potential game-changer, since it meant Ebola might now spread among the urban population and into neighbouring Rwanda.

The previous global emergencies, under a system introduced after the 2004 Asian SARS epidemic, were the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America. They border Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan.

WHO workers and their partners are also conducting health screenings on roadways, particularly on the DRC's borders, to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

The WHO said a Congolese fisherwoman travelled across the border to sell fish at Mpondwe market on July 11, where she had four vomiting incidents before returning to Congo and dying of Ebola. This is a public health emergency in a complex humanitarian emergency - failure to respond accordingly will lead to a failure to contain the disease.

Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances in this outbreak that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Ebola symptoms may appear "anywhere from 2 to 21 days after contact with the virus, with an average of 8 to 10 days", but "common illnesses can have these same symptoms, including influenza (flu) or malaria".

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