While security concerns stemming from ongoing local armed conflict pose extraordinary challenges, and proximity to neighboring countries raise risks of cross border spread, the current outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not meet the criteria to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — or PHEIC — a committee convened by the World Health Organization determined today.
The committee weighed potential consequences — both in added value, and in potential disadvantages to declaring the outbreak in the country’s northeast area a PHEIC, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. While an official recognition from WHO that an outbreak poses risks of global impact can spur international participation in responses, those responses already are present, Tedros said. At the same time, declaration of a PHEIC can also increase risks of restrictions on travel or trade, which could hinder responses, he said.
While WHO has recognized risks of national and regional spread of the outbreak as “very high,” in the last week, the agency continues to say the risks of global spread of the virus from this outbreak are low. Near and porous borders between the area of the outbreak and neighboring Uganda as well as Rwanda make cross border spread an ongoing concern, but no case yet has been reported, Tedros said. The neighboring countries are “well prepared,” according to WHO officials, including with approvals for the use of the anti-Ebola vaccine deployed in this and the most recent previous outbreak of the virus in the DRC are “in the pipeline.”
More than 18,000 people considered at risk, either because of contact with infected individuals, their contacts, or in the case of healthworkers, potential contacts, have received the vaccination since the current outbreak began.