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Ebola Outbreak in D.R. Congo Declared a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’

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EIRNS—The World Health Organization declared yesterday that the sustained length and geographic spread of the Ebola virus outbreak first identified on Aug. 1, 2018 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.), are grounds to declare the outbreak a Public Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The outbreak was already classified as a Level 3 emergency (the worst). Once a PHEIC is declared, however, all 196 countries adhering to the International Health Regulations have “a binding international legal agreement” to “respond promptly.”

According to a MedPage news agency report on the conference call by WHO officials yesterday, the recent identification of a case in Goma, a city of almost 2 million on the border with Rwanda, was not the only alarm bell which led to the decision. “Intense transmission” of Ebola has recurred in the large city of Beni, months after its spread was thought to be stopped, the case of a woman with Ebola symptoms crossing into Uganda, and the assassination of two Ebola health workers were also cited.

The death toll of this outbreak is now nearing 1,700, with 2,512 other current cases identified.

WHO officials emphasized that so far, the outbreak is considered to be “a regional threat, but not a global threat,” and restrictions on travel and trade are not recommended.

Progress has been made since the Ebola PHEIC of 2014, in that vaccines now exist. But WHO officials called accelerating vaccine production a priority, because the one licensed Ebola vaccine which has been used so far is in such short supply that it is being distributed in half-doses right now. According to MedPage’s report, the WHO has proposed to the D.R. Congo that another vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, be introduced also. TASS reported yesterday that Russia’s VECTOR Virology and Biotechnology State Research Center has offered to supply the D.R. Congo with its Ebola vaccine, which is approved for use in Russia. It operates on a different principle than the other vaccines, TASS reported.

Stopping this latest outbreak requires more than vaccines and short-term measures, however. As EIR stated repeatedly during the 2014 Ebola emergency, eradicating the threat of this most deadly of viruses, and others that will emerge, requires an international crash-program mobilization to provide adequate economic conditions (sanitation, water, power, housing) and first-class health care for Africa. (See, EIR, “Why We Are Losing the Battle against Ebola,” Sept. 19, 2014.)