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WHO declares emergency as Ebola outbreak in DRC spreads

A woman gets her temperature measured at an Ebola screening station as she enters the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Rwanda on July 16, 2019 in Goma. – The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma has died, the governor of North Kivu province said on July 16, 2019. The case — the first in a major urban hub in the region’s nearly year-old epidemic of the disease — has sparked deep concern in neighbouring Rwanda and at the UN. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday declared the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).A PHEIC is a formal declaration by the WHO of “an extraordinary event, which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

It is formulated when a situation arises that is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected and which carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border and may require immediate international action.”

Under the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR), states have a legal duty to respond promptly to a PHEIC.

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Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in an online statement, said: “It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system.

“Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also the government, partners, and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”

The declaration followed a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for EVD in the DRC.

The Committee cited recent developments in the outbreak in making its recommendation, including the first confirmed case in Goma, a city of almost two million people on the border with Rwanda and gateway to the rest of DRC and the world.

Chairman of PHEIC, Prof. Robert Steffen, said: “It is important that the world follows these recommendations. It is also crucial that states do not use the PHEIC 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.”

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Since it was declared almost a year ago, the outbreak has been classified as a level three emergency–the most serious– by WHO, triggering the highest level of mobilisation from the United Nations (UN) apex health body.

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

In recommending a PHEIC the committee made specific recommendations related to this outbreak.

Also, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said that it has intensified monitoring and surveillance at all the country borders and at airports and seaports across the country.

Director-General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian yesterday that the centre has released advice on how to prevent the spread of Ebola and urged members of the public to adhere to the following precautions:
•Wash hands frequently using soap and water – use hand sanitisers when soap and water are not available

•Avoid direct handling of dead animals

•Avoid physical contact with anyone who has possible symptoms of infection with an unknown diagnosis, and

• Ensure fruit and vegetables are properly washed and peeled before eating them

He advised health care workers to ensure universal precautions at all times. This includes the use of personal protective equipment always when handling patients.

Ihekweazu insisted that the country is better prepared for a possible outbreak of Ebola today than it was in 2014 when the first case was confirmed. The epidemiologist said the NCDC remains fully committed and capable of protecting the health of all Nigerians from infectious disease outbreaks.


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