GENEVA – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the Ebola outbreak blamed for more than 1,400 deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo has yet to reach the dimensions of a public health emergency of international concern.
The finding was announced following a meeting of WHO’s Emergency Committee in Geneva.
“The Committee expressed its deep concern about the ongoing outbreak, which, despite some positive epidemiological trends ... shows that the extension and/or re-infection of disease in other areas ... presents, once again, challenges around community acceptance and security,” the panel’s acting chair, Dr. Preben Aavitsland, told reporters, reading from a statement.
Congolese authorities have reported 2,108 confirmed Ebola infections since last August, resulting in 1,411 fatalities, and this week saw the disease cross into neighboring Uganda.
The Congo outbreak is already the second-largest on record, trailing only the 2014 epidemic that claimed 11,000 lives in West Africa.
While “not unexpected ... the exportation of cases into Uganda is a reminder that, as long as this outbreak continues ... there is a risk of spread to neighboring countries, although the risk of spread to countries outside the region remains low,” the WHO Emergency Committee said.
The three cases detected this week in Uganda involved members of a single Congolese-Ugandan family who traveled between the two countries.
Aavitsland said that one reason not to label the situation in Congo an international emergency was to avoid the imposition of travel and trade restrictions that could “severely harm the economy” in Congo.
“This is not a global emergency,” he said, while going on to urge the international community to “step up funding and strengthen support” for preparedness in Congo and neighboring countries.
Addressing the Emergency Committee by telephone from Kinshasa, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus supported the panel’s decision even as he underlined the gravity of the situation in Congo.
“Although the outbreak does not at this time pose a global health threat, I want to emphasize that for the affected families and communities, this outbreak is very much an emergency,” he said.
“We have the people, the tools, the knowledge, and the determination to end this outbreak. We need the sustained political commitment of all parties, so we can safely access and work with communities. We also need the international community to step up its financial commitment to ending the outbreak,” Ghebreyesus said.
He pointed out that the WHO needs an additional $54 million to fund its operations through the end of next month.