WHO says DR Congo Ebola 'not public health emergency of international concern'

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

This is the advice of the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which met in Geneva on Friday following the outbreak of Ebola that has so far claimed some 25 lives.

The Director-General lof WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has therefore, advised against the application of any travel or trade restrictions, a statement issued after the meeting said.

The Committee's first emergency meeting considered the "international risks” of the latest outbreak of the deadly disease Ebola, which has now moved to an urban area of DR Congo.

One new case of Ebola virus disease has been confirmed in Mbandaka, a city with a population of about 1.2 million, WHO confirmed on Thursday, raising fears that despite a rapid response by authorities, the outbreak has not been contained.

WHO said so far, 25 have reportedly died. Until Thursday, the more than 45 suspected or confirmed cases were all located in the area around Bikoro, close to the Congo River, and around 150 kilometres (about 95 miles) from the provincial capital Mbandaka, which is a busy port city. Three health care workers have been affected.

"It was the view of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not currently been met," the statement said.

The Members and advisers of the Emergency Committee met by teleconference with presentations being made by representatives of the DR Congo on recent developments, including measures taken to implement rapid control strategies, and existing gaps and challenges in the outbreak response. During the informational session, the WHO Secretariat provided an update on and assessment of the Ebola outbreak.

The Committee’s role was to provide to the Director-General their views and perspectives on whether the event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and if so what temporary recommendations should be made.

The statement said nine neighbouring countries, including Congo-Brazzaville and Central African Republic, have been advised that they are at high risk of spread and have been supported with equipment and personnel.

The Committee concluded that the Ebola outbreak has several characteristics that are of particular concern: the risk of more rapid spread given that Ebola has now spread to an urban area; that there are several outbreaks in remote and hard to reach areas; that health care staff have been infected, which may be a risk for further amplification.

"The risk of international spread is particularly high since the city of Mbandaka is in proximity to the Congo river, which has significant regional traffic across porous borders."

The Committee also noted that there are huge logistical challenges given the poor infrastructure and remote location of most cases currently reported adding that these factors affect surveillance, case detection and confirmation, contact tracing, and access to vaccines and therapeutics.

The Committee also noted, however, that the response by the government of the DR Congo, WHO and partners has been "rapid and comprehensive".

"Interventions underway provide strong reason to believe that the outbreak can be brought under control, including: enhanced surveillance, establishment of case management facilities, deployment of mobile laboratories, expanded engagement of community leaders, establishment of an airbridge, and other planned interventions."

In addition, the advanced preparations for use of the investigational vaccine provide further cause for optimism for control

The statement said the Committee Public Health Advice as follows:

- Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WHO, and partners remain engaged in a vigorous response – without this, the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly. This response should be supported by the entire international community.

- Global solidarity among the scientific community is critical and international data should be shared freely and regularly.
It is particularly important there should be no international travel or trade restrictions.

- Neighbouring countries should strengthen preparedness and surveillance.

- During the response, safety and security of staff should be ensured, and protection of responders and national and international staff should prioritised.

- Exit screening, including at airports and ports on the Congo river, is considered to be of great importance; however entry screening, particularly in distant airports, is not considered to be of any public health or cost-benefit value.

- Robust risk communication (with real-time data), social mobilisation, and community engagement are needed for a well-coordinated response and so that those affected understand what protection measures are being recommended;  

- If the outbreak expands significantly, or if there is international spread,  the Emergency Committee will be reconvened.

The Committee emphasised the importance of continued support by WHO and other national and international partners towards the effective implementation and monitoring of this advice.
-0- PANA MA 18May2018

18 Maio 2018 19:09:08

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