WHO declares a public health emergency over Congo’s Ebola outbreak

The risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries is considered high

Health worker in Congo

CONTACT TRACING  A health worker with the World Health Organization screens people who may have come in contact with someone sick with Ebola in Congo’s North Kivu Provence.

WHO/J. Kannah

The World Health Organization has declared Congo’s yearlong Ebola virus outbreak a public health emergency, due to a high risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries.

The organization said, however, that it does not consider the outbreak a global threat.

“Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region remains very high, and the risk of spread outside the region remains low,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a July 17 news conference.

Since the Ebola outbreak began in Congo on August 1, 2018, the disease has killed 1,676 people out of 2,512 cases reported through July 15.

WHO designated the outbreak a public health emergency after a case was confirmed this month in Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu Province, through which thousands of people pass daily on the way to and from neighboring Rwanda. The patient in Goma was a man who had traveled from the Congolese city of Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak. He has since died.  

Three cases also appeared in Uganda in June, and another in July, but the patients had all traveled from Congo. WHO said there are no confirmed cases of Ebola originating in Uganda.

In a statement, WHO said that the emergency declaration reflects the need for more international coordination in response to the outbreak. The organization is not recommending any restrictions on borders or trade in the area. Rather than stopping Ebola, such restrictions “can actually hamper the fight,” said Tedros, because they “force people to use informal and unmonitored border crossings, increasing potential for the spread of the disease.”

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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