AP

Ebola Outbreak In Congo Declared A Global Health Emergency

Jul 17, 2019, 2:17 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:04 pm

In this photograph taken Saturday July 13, 2019, health workers wearing protective suits take their...

In this photograph taken Saturday July 13, 2019, health workers wearing protective suits take their shift at a treatment center in Beni, Congo DRC. The head of the World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts Wednesday July 17, 2019 to decide whether the Ebola outbreak should be declared an international emergency after spreading to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. More than 1,600 people in eastern Congo have died as the virus has spread in areas too dangerous for health teams to access.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

GENEVA (AP) — The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday after the virus spread this week to a city of 2 million people .

A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

The declaration comes days after the virus was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Worries about the spread of the disease were also heighted after a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola.

While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva.

The international emergency “should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help,” he said. Tedros insisted that the declaration was not made to raise more money — even though WHO estimated “hundreds of millions” of dollars would be needed to stop the epidemic.

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts.

“The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it’s still not under control, and we are not where we should be,” she said. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

Liu said vaccination strategies should be broadened and that more efforts should be made to build trust within communities.

This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio.

WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Last month, the outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday’s declaration was long overdue.

“This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support,” she said but warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions.

“Those restrictions would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counterproductive,” she said. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and “might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk.”

WHO had been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. Internal documents later showed WHO held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.

Wednesday’s announcement prompted fear in eastern Congo, where many do business across borders and travel overseas.

“I am vaccinated and I protect myself against Ebola,” said Zoe Kibwana, 46, a shoe salesman who does business in Uganda, just 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Beni. “Closing the borders would handicap our economy. The health ministry and WHO need to end this epidemic as soon as possible.”

The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Efforts to contain the virus have been hurt by mistrust among wary locals that has prompted deadly attacks on health workers. Some infected people have deliberately evaded health authorities.

The pastor who brought Ebola to Goma used several fake names to conceal his identity on his way to the city, Congolese officials said. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus.

Congo’s minister of health resisted the characterization of the outbreak as a health emergency.

“We accept the decision of the committee of experts but one hopes that it’s a decision that wasn’t made under pressure of certain groups that want to use this as a way to raise funds for certain humanitarian actors,” said Dr. Oly Ilunga.

Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

Dr. Maurice Kakule was one of the first people to survive the current outbreak after he fell ill while treating a woman last July before the outbreak had even been declared.

“What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people,” he told the Geneva meeting.

___

Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro in Beni, Congo, and Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo, also contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

AP

A tourist jumps from a rock into the blue-green water of Havasu Falls in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, Ap...

Scott Sonner and Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Dozens of hikers became ill during trips to waterfalls near the Grand Canyon

Dozens of tourists say they became ill after visiting a popular Arizona tourist destination known for its towering blue-green waterfalls.

8 hours ago

FILE: Elected officials and representatives from U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams unveil t...

Associated Press

Possible 2026 World Cup training camps may include Salt Lake City or Herriman

Possible team training camps for the 2026 World Cup include a site in Salt Lake City among several other U.S. cities.

13 hours ago

The statue 'Contemplation of Justice' sits above the west front plaza of the U.S. Supreme Court on ...

Mark Sherman

Supreme Court rules California man can’t trademark ‘Trump too small’

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against a man who wants to trademark the suggestive phrase “Trump too small.”

14 hours ago

FILE - Boxes of the drug mifepristone sit on a shelf at the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloo...

Mark Sherman

Unanimous Supreme Court preserves access to widely used abortion medication

The Supreme Court has preserved access to a medication that was used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the U.S. last year.

15 hours ago

FILE - The 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is seen, Oct. 2...

Terry Spencer, Associated Press

Six years after the Parkland school massacre, the bloodstained building will finally be demolished

The demolition of the building where 17 people died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting is set to begin. Crews will begin tearing down the three-story building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday.

24 hours ago

File - Workers install lighting on an "X" sign atop the company headquarters, formerly known as Twi...

Associated Press

What happened to the likes? X is now hiding which posts you like from other users

Social media platform X is now hiding your likes.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Ebola Outbreak In Congo Declared A Global Health Emergency