The World Health Organization said Friday the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is still not a global emergency, arguing the epidemic that’s tallied more than 1,000 cases and claimed more than 750 lives hasn’t spilled over borders.
“Although there was great concern about the rising number of cases in some regions, the outbreak has not spread internationally,” said Robert Steffen, director of emergencies for WHO, said from Geneva.
WHO had convened a panel Friday to consider, for a second time, whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
It is a major designation that’s been deployed against H1N1 flu in 2009, the West African Ebola epidemic and reemergence of polio in 2014 and the Zika virus in 2016.
WHO Director-General Teodros Ghebreyesus said he accepted the panel’s recommendation, though the decision is likely to spark debate, since declaring a global emergency would elevate the issue and almost certainly bring new resources and attention to the ongoing crisis. Critics said WHO was too slow to respond to the West African outbreak.
Dr. Steffen said in this case, the WHO decided there was “no added benefit” from labeling it an international emergency, but he did say the organization will need more than $100 million in extra cash for the fight.
“Funds are now needed to avoid an public emergency of international concern,” he said.
He said despite the latest determination, it does not mean the global community “can lean back and relax.”
He said they must redouble efforts to detect cases as quickly as possible, offer treatment, and take other precautions.
Ebola is a serious often-fatal disease that is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads from human to human through the bodily fluids of people who exhibit symptoms.
Though responders have an experimental vaccine and new trial drugs to combat the disease, they are contending with armed militias who’ve fought government forces for years in affected parts of northeast DRC.
The sectarian unrest, plus distrust of government forces and outsiders, has resulted in attacks on treatment centers, hindering the response.
It is the second-worst outbreak since Ebola was discovered in the late 1970s, after the massive West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000.