UN tries to ease fears over lat­est Ebola out­break

Sunday News - - WORLD -

THE on­go­ing Ebola out­break in Congo does not yet war­rant be­ing de­clared a global emer­gency but is of ‘‘deep con­cern,’’ the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion says.

Fol­low­ing a meeting of its ex­pert com­mit­tee yes­ter­day, the United Na­tions health agency called for ef­forts to be re­dou­bled to stop the deadly virus, not­ing that a re­cent spike in cases raised the risk of it spread­ing to other coun­tries.

The out­break, an­nounced on Au­gust 1 last year, has be­come the sec­ond-dead­li­est in his­tory, be­hind the West African one from 2014-16 that killed more than 11,300 peo­ple. Congo’s health min­istry has re­ported 1206 con­firmed and probable cases, in­clud­ing 764 deaths.

This is the sec­ond time the com­mit­tee has de­cided that the out­break is not yet a global emer­gency. Chair­man Robert St­ef­fen said the ex­perts had feared that mak­ing such a dec­la­ra­tion might even hurt re­sponse ef­forts.

Ahead of the WHO an­nounce­ment, a top Red Cross of­fi­cial said he was ‘‘more con­cerned than I have ever been’’ about Ebola’s pos­si­ble re­gional spread.

Emanuele Capo­bianco, head of health and care at the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties, cited Con­golese health min­istry data show­ing 40 new cases over two days this week. He called that rate un­prece­dented dur­ing the out­break.

The WHO had said it is woe­fully short of the US$148 mil­lion (NZ$218m) needed to fight Ebola for the next six months. To date, the agency has re­ceived only US$74m.

This out­break, oc­cur­ring close to the bor­ders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other. Mis­trust has been high in a re­gion that has never faced an Ebola out­break be­fore, and in­se­cu­rity caused by rebel groups has hurt aid ef­forts.

Re­becca Katz, a global health se­cu­rity ex­pert at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, called the WHO’s de­ci­sion dis­ap­point­ing, say­ing the agency and its ex­perts were ‘‘tak­ing too nar­row of an in­ter­pre­ta­tion’’ of what con­sti­tuted an in­ter­na­tional emer­gency.

Ahead of the an­nounce­ment, Trish New­port, Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Goma, a ma­jor cross­roads city close to the out­break, said declar­ing a global emer­gency would not nec­es­sar­ily help to stop the epi­demic. She called for a new ap­proach, say­ing that af­ter nine months of the same strat­egy ‘‘the epi­demic is definitely not un­der con­trol’’.

New­port said 75 per cent of new Ebola cases had no ob­vi­ous link to pre­vi­ous patients, mean­ing that of­fi­cials had lost track of where the virus was spread­ing.


A health worker sprays dis­in­fec­tant on his col­league af­ter work­ing at an Ebola treat­ment cen­tre in Beni, eastern Congo.

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