The WHO decides not to declare the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Despite the fact that over 1200 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been infected by the Ebola virus, with over 6% of these infections resulting in death, the World Health Organization recently determined that this current outbreak does not qualify as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
An 11-member WHO expert panel was recently convened by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to consider for a second time whether WHO should declare the outbreak as a global emergency. Doing so would impact disease surveillance plans, travel and trade.
The PHEIC concept, since its adoption in 2005, has only been applied four times –– for a pandemic flu in 2009, polio eradication in 2014, the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the Zika virus outbreak in 2016.
The current Ebola outbreak began in August 2018 and is centered in two conflict-ridden provinces in the northeast of the DRC. Some people believe that declaring the outbreak a PHEIC would attract the attention and funding needed to resolve the situation before it erupts into the surrounding areas.
The panel’s decision was nearly unanimous in its determination that declaring a PHEIC would provide “no added benefit.” They indicated that the WHO, the DRC’s Ministry of Health and nongovernmental groups are containing the outbreak, which has not spread internationally over several months. There has been a increase in the number of cases recently, which is some cause for concern. The WHO urged all public health groups to “redouble efforts” to identify infected people, prevent the spread of the disease and vaccine all people that have had direct or indirect contact with infected patients.
The WHO also released data on the performance of the experimental Ebola vaccine development by Merck. To date, 97,000 people have been vaccinated, and preliminary results indicate it has been 97.5% effective.