Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, announced today that the organization’s emergency committee for Ebola virus disease will reconvene as soon as possible to address the growing threat of the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, and surrounding areas.
The emergency committee has been convened three times already during the outbreak, and each time it found that the situation did not meet the criteria to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Tedros’ decision today follows reports of an Ebola case in the large Congolese city of Goma, the recent killings of two health care workers, and political unrest that has made containment of the epidemic difficult.
Goma is a city with a population of 2 million people located near the border of Rwanda. Tedros called the identification of this case a “game-changer” in the epidemic.
Oly Ilunga, MD, the minister of health in the DRC, said the infected individual — a pastor who had traveled from the city of Butembo in the northeast of the DRC — was isolated and is now being treated in an Ebola treatment center. All contacts of the pastor have been vaccinated, according to Ilunga.
“Since the beginning of this epidemic, we have been prepared and have been working with WHO in order to deal with the possibility of a positive case in Goma,” he said. “The situation is therefore under control and is being managed.”
The killings of the two health care workers marked the seventh killing and the 198th attack on health care facilities and workers since January, Tedros said.
“Every attack sets us back,” Tedros said. “Every attack makes it more difficult to trace contacts, vaccinate and perform safe burials. Every attack gives Ebola an opportunity to spread.”
Increased conflict in the country has made it challenging to provide immunizations and health care in general. In addition to the thousands of Ebola cases, Tedros said that nearly 2,000 children have died from measles in DRC since January.
“The 10th Ebola outbreak is not a humanitarian crisis,” Ilunga said. “It is first and foremost a public health crisis, which is taking place in an environment characterized and rendered more fragile by development problems and shortcomings in the health system. This crisis calls for a technical public health response to break the transmission chain of the virus, which should be supported by health system agents and their traditional partners.”
So far, WHO has reported 2,489 suspected and confirmed cases and 1,665 deaths resulting from the outbreak. – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosures: Tedros and Ilunga report no relevant financial disclosures.