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WHO says Ebola outbreak in DR Congo is an international health emergency

THE deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced late yesterday after a case was confirmed in a city of two million people.

A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the required conditions. 

More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region long subjected to conflict.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads situated in the north-east of the country.

The city is on the border with Rwanda and has an international airport.

Also, a sick Congolese fish trader travelled to Uganda and back while symptomatic before dying of Ebola.

While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva.

The international emergency “should not be used to stigmatise or penalise the very people who are most in need of our help,” he said. 

Doctors Without Borders president Dr Joanne Liu said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts.

“The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it’s still not under control, and we are not where we should be,” she said.

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