As the current Ebola virus outbreak burns through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), public health officials are now warning the disease is threatening global health. In a recent article published in The Lancet, 12 leading global health policy experts argue that World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “should reconvene the Emergency Committee (EC) and consider declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).” The authors also noted that while health care personnel in the DRC are working tirelessly to control the virus, the current response is overwhelmed.
“Effective mitigation requires case identification,” the authors wrote in The Lancet. “Yet less than 20% of new Ebola cases have been on known contact lists. This situation undercuts vital interventions, such as contact investigations, isolation, and safe burials. WHO might have to shift from ring vaccination to vaccination based on geographical location, but doing so effectively will require far more doses; limited vaccine supplies, therefore, are concerning.”
Currently, more than 780 people have been infected with Ebola in the DRC, and nearly 500 have died, according to the most recent update from the WHO. More than a quarter of the dead are from the city of Beni, in North Kivu province, which sits on the border with both Uganda and Rwanda. The WHO also claims that more than 7,200 people are under medical surveillance.
Despite the work of personnel from the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and local health officials, the virus has yet to be tamed. Violence spilling over from Uganda has made response efforts in effected areas extremely dangerous, and health monitors are reporting an increase in the number of Ebola patients after attacks. An unsteady political situation in the country’s capital is only making matters worse. Several labor unions have initiated strikes in protest of the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, and union leaders are asking for “back payment of wages and a crackdown on cronyism,” according to a report from Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The authors in The Lancet article also state: “A PHEIC is a clarion call to galvanize high-level political, financial, and technical support. A PHEIC would provide a clear signal from the world’s global health body that UN leadership is urgent. A PHEIC also empowers the WHO Director-General to make temporary, non-binding recommendations that have normative force.”