GENEVA – A World Health Organization Emergency Committee warns the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains a global health threat despite significant progress in containing the spread of this deadly virus. WHO reports a total of 3,431 cases of Ebola, including 2,253 deaths in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
The Emergency Committee declared the outbreak in DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, or PHEIC, last July. In reviewing the current situation, members of the Committee decided it was premature to declare the global threat over.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says he accepts the Committee’s advice.
“As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic,” he said.
WHO has revised its risk assessment from very high to high at national and regional levels, and low at the global level. Last week, it reports only three new cases of the disease in North Kivu’s Beni Health Zone. Tedros calls these signs extremely positive.
“But even as we near the end of this outbreak, we must act now to prevent the next one…Only half of health facilities have access to water. Strengthening a health system may not be as sexy as responding to an outbreak, but it is equally important,” he said.
Tedros is traveling to DRC’s capital Kinshasa on Thursday. The WHO chief says he will meet President Felix Tshisekedi and other senior ministers to explore ways to strengthen DRC’s health system.
Chair of the Emergency Committee, Robert Steffen explains why the group decided to maintain the PHEIC despite cautious optimism that the Ebola epidemic was winding down.
“We do see a risk of some resurgence and also a risk of complacency if we would now suddenly abandon this PHEIC despite of the fact that we still occasionally still see new cases,” he said.
Another problem, Steffen says, is lack of money. He says WHO needs $83 million to carry out its Ebola operation until June. So far, less than half of the required amount has been received.