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DRC's Ebola outbreak an 'emergency'

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-19 09:16

A health worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance at a Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 18, 2019. [Photo/Agencies] 

WHO urges joint efforts to end scourge that has killed over 1,600 since August

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the deadly Ebola virus disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a public health emergency of international concern.

"We need to work together in solidarity with the DR Congo to end this outbreak and build a better health system," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general said in a statement.

The declaration followed a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for Ebola Virus Disease in the DR Congo, the fourth such meeting since the outbreak was declared on 1 August 2018.

The Ebola virus claimed more than 1,600 lives since then.

The committee expressed disappointment on delays in funding which have constrained the response. They also reinforced the need to protect livelihoods of the people most affected by the outbreak by keeping transport routes and borders open.

"It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use the emergency declaration as an excuse to impose trade or travel restrictions, which would have a negative impact on the response and on the lives and livelihoods of people in the region," Professor Robert Steffen, chair of the Emergency Committee, said.

Since it was declared almost a year ago the outbreak has been classified by WHO as a level 3 emergency, the most serious, triggering the highest level of mobilization from the organization.

The United Nations has also recognized the seriousness of the emergency by activating the Humanitarian System-wide Scale-Up to support the Ebola response.

According to the Emergency Committee statement, there are increased numbers of cases in Butembo and Mabalako; the epicenter has moved from Mabalako to Beni; and one imported case was reported in Goma.

More than 70 entry points are being monitored and almost 75 million screenings have been conducted, with 22 cases having been detected.

There are 2512 confirmed or probable cases, including 136 health workers affected, with 40 deaths among them, according to the statement.

Beni remains the epicenter of the outbreak, with 46 percent of reported cases over the last three weeks. The situation in the region remains difficult, especially as the proportion of community deaths has been rising, according to the emergency committee.

The challenges include insecurity, community acceptance, delays in case detection and isolation, challenges in contact tracing, a highly mobile population, and multiple routes of transmission.

This is in addition to nosocomial transmission, burial practices. The use of traditional healers also continue to amplify transmission in affected communities.

Mangina has 18 percent of the cases, and one new case in Goma that came from Beni. The patient traveled to Goma with several other people in a bus. When the vehicle broke down, he went to a health facility via motorbike. He was transferred to an Ebola Treatment Centre, but later died.

Surveillance is being reinforced and readiness strengthened. Goma being an important center of economic activities with Rwanda, 15,000 people cross the border daily.

The committee recommended that closing the border would strongly affect the population of Goma and have adverse implications for the response.

"There is a continuing need for increased awareness among the population on the outbreak situation and stronger engagement on health-seeking behaviors," the committee added.

The UN Ebola emergency response coordinator emphasized the need for community engagement and access in all areas, increased multi-sectoral collaboration, and more financial and human resources.

"Insecurity is the greatest concern, especially after two community health workers were killed last week. Efforts to increase security are underway. There is a need to focus both on intervention gaps and the quality of interventions," the coordinator said.

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