The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee is meeting to decide whether to declare an Ebola epidemic an international threat, after an outbreak that began in the Democratic Republic of Congo crossed into Uganda.
The WHO panel, which was formed in 2005, has used the label ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)’ for only four previous epidemics.
Congo’s epidemic is the second worst worldwide since West Africa’s Ebola outbreak in 2014-16, with 2,084 cases and 1,405 deaths since being declared in August. The WHO said Thursday that two people had died in Uganda having arrived with the disease from Congo.
WHAT IS EBOLA?
The WHO panel, officially known as the International Health Regulations and Emergency Committee, has met twice already on the current DRC outbreak.
It held off making the emergency call at previous meetings in October and April, in part because the virus had not spread internationally.
Uganda cases confirmed
That changed this week with confirmation that Ebola had reached western Uganda, where it has claimed two lives so far.
A Congolese woman – who is married to a Ugandan – as well as her mother, three children, and their nanny, had travelled to DRC to care for her ill father, who later died of Ebola.
The panel, which twice before decided not to declare an emergency, will make recommendations to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who takes the final decision.
“Doing so would raise the levels of international political support, which has been seriously lacking so far, show strong support for DRC and neighbouring countries and WHO, and release more resources, including finance, healthcare workers, enhanced logistics, security and infrastructure,” said Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global medical charity.
Only 4 emergencies have been declared in the past decade: the H1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, polio (2014) and Zika virus (2016).