The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded the highest alarm over Ebola, a highly contagious disease, which has already killed more than 1,600 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Central African country.
Recently, WHO declared the Ebola crisis in the DRC a “public health emergency of international concern”, a move that may encourage wealthy donor countries to provide more cash, which is badly needed to fight the killer epidemic.
By calling the current situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), WHO has placed it in a rare category that includes the 2009 flu pandemic, the Zika epidemic of 2016, and the two-year Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa before it ended in 2016.
Even as they declared the emergency, WHO officials attempted to tamp down reactions they said could harm both the DRC’s economy and efforts to stop the outbreak. The World Health Organisation stopped short of saying borders should be closed, saying the risk of the disease spreading outside the region was not high.
“It is time for the world to take notice,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He accepted recommendations there should be no restrictions on travel or trade, and no entry screening of passengers at ports or airports outside the immediate region.
The outbreak, the second largest in history, started in August 2018 and is affecting two provinces in DR Congo - North Kivu and Ituri.
Health officials are also worried about the safety of those battling the outbreak. More than 2,500 people have been infected and two-thirds of them have already died.
It took 224 days for the number of cases to reach 1,000, but just a further 71 days to reach 2,000, BBC reported.
About 12 new cases are being reported every day, it said.
According to health experts, vaccines are available for Ebola and has been found effective. More than 161,000 people have been given it.
However, everybody is not vaccinated - only those who come into direct contact with an Ebola patient, and people who come into contact with them.
The vaccine was developed during the epidemic in West Africa and has been available throughout the latest outbreak.
Tackling the disease has been complicated by conflict in the region.
Since January, there have been 198 attacks against healthcare workers leading to seven deaths and 58 injuries, a BBC dispatch showed.
Another major problem has been distrust of healthcare workers leading to about a third of deaths being in the community rather than at a specialist Ebola treatment centre.
It means those people are not seeking treatment and risk spreading the disease to neighbours and relatives.
While the WHO declaration does not legally compel member states to do anything, it certainly sounds a global alert.
The declaration raises the outbreak’s visibility and public health officials hope it will galvanise the international community to fight the spread of the frequently fatal disease.
Unless the international community steps up and funds the response now, we may end up paying for this outbreak for a long time to come.
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