Ebola outbreak in DR Congo set to worsen

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The Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo is likely to worsen significantly unless response is stepped up, an emergency committee of experts convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

It does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the emergency committee said.
“The government of DR Congo, WHO and partners must intensify the current response. Without this the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly,” the committee said in a statement.

There have been 139 deaths and 215 probable and confirmed cases in the outbreak, declared on August 1. The WHO said it could spread at any time to neighbouring Uganda or Rwanda, although both countries are well prepared.
“We have some optimism this outbreak will be brought under control in a reasonable time,” committee chairman Robert Steffen told a news conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Declaring a PHEIC, the first since the Latin American Zika virus outbreak in February 2016, would have ramped up the response pace, said Jeremy Farrar, head of Britain’s Wellcome Trust.
“Declaring this could have released more resources, including finance, healthcare workers, enhanced security and infrastructure – as well as more international political support,” he said in a statement.
“Whether it is defined as a PHEIC or not, this epidemic is at a crucial phase and in an incredibly difficult environment.”

Steffen said there were also disadvantages, such as travel and transport restrictions that could hinder the fight against Ebola. The committee said it was important no restrictions were imposed.

Jamie LeSueur, head of the Congo Ebola response operation at the International Federation of the Red Cross, said insecurity was preventing health workers from reaching afflicted communities, causing a surge of cases.
“We are concerned this will contribute to an accelerated spread of the disease, which poses increased risk to neighbouring provinces and neighbouring countries.”

Steffen said the committee based its conclusions on three criteria – whether the outbreak was extraordinary, whether there was a risk of international spread and whether there was a requirement for international response.

The outbreak was concerning for the region but not globally, he said, adding no cases had yet been exported and international response was underway.
“In one of the provinces the outbreak is pretty much mitigated, in another it is just flaring up, but concentration of the response teams is now focusing on the new area,” he said.