WHO: Ebola outbreak not an international health emergency despite deaths in Uganda
Today, an emergency committee convened by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, for the third time, determined that the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, does not meet the criteria to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, or PHEIC, despite reports of the first cross-border cases and deaths.
“The committee has decided for a third time that the current and ongoing outbreak in the DRC does not meet the criteria for a [PHEIC],” Tedros said during a press conference. “Although it does not pose a global health threat, this outbreak is very much an emergency.”
The outbreak, which has been ongoing in an area of conflict in the northeastern DRC since August 2018, has left up to 2,108 people infected and 1,411 dead, according to the most recent update provided by the country’s health ministry. The health ministry also reported cases have crossed over into neighboring Uganda, where a 5-year-old boy and his 50-year-old grandmother have died.
Infectious Disease News previously reported that the boy crossed the border into Uganda from the DRC on June 9. Health care workers identified that he might have Ebola, and he was admitted and isolated at a hospital with an Ebola treatment unit, according to the Ugandan health ministry. WHO said a rapid response team has been dispatched to the area to identify anyone who may have been in contact with the boy and noted that this was the first case of Ebola confirmed outside the DRC in the current outbreak.
“Although the spread to Uganda is tragic, it is not a surprise,” Tedros said. “We have said since the beginning that the risk of cross-border spread is high, but the fact that it has taken this long is a testament to efforts of both sides of the borders.”
WHO officials said teams are working to identify all contacts of the cases in Uganda so that proper actions can be taken to stop any further spread.
The CDC has lent its support to the outbreak response by activating its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Thursday.
“We are activating the [EOC] at CDC headquarters to provide enhanced operational support to our expanded Ebola response team deployed in DRC,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, said in a press release. “Through CDC’s command center we are consolidating our public health expertise and logistics planning for a longer term, sustained effort to bring this complex epidemic to an end.”
Preben Aavitsland, MD, acting chair of the emergency committee, said during the press conference that at-risk countries should improve preparedness for managing imported cases, cross-border screening should continue with improved quality and WHO should continue to monitor population movement. He added that all priority countries should put vaccination approvals in place so optimal vaccine strategies can be implemented rapidly.
“While it is an extraordinary event, we believe that the ongoing response would not be enhanced by declaring [a PHEIC],” Aavitsland said. “The committee provided a range of advice to WHO and member states and strongly urges countries and partners to heed this advice.” – by Caitlyn Stulpin
Disclosures: Aavitsland, Redfield and Tedros report no relevant financial disclosures.