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WHO: Ebola Outbreak in Congo Cause for ‘Extraordinary Concern’

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is cause for extraordinary concern, but has not yet reached the threshold to declare it a global emergency.

“This was the third time the WHO committee met to discuss the ongoing outbreak — and the third time the experts declined to declare a global health emergency,” NBC News reported.

As of Friday, at least 2,108 suspected or confirmed cases were reported in the Congo, with 1,411 deaths, according to the WHO, which noted that this is the 10th Ebola outbreak in Congo within the past 40 years.

A meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a health expert from Ethiopia, regarding Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo took place on Friday in Geneva.

“The Committee expressed its deep concern about the ongoing outbreak, which, despite some positive epidemiological trends, especially in the epicentres of Butembo and Katwa, shows that the extension and/or reinfection of disease in other areas like Mabalako, presents, once again, challenges around community acceptance and security,” WHO said in a statement regarding the meeting.

“In addition, the response continues to be hampered by a lack of adequate funding and strained human resources,” the statement noted. “The cluster of cases in Uganda is not unexpected; the rapid response and initial containment is a testament to the importance of preparedness in neighbouring countries. The Committee commends the communication and collaboration between DRC and Uganda.

“At the same time, the exportation of cases into Uganda is a reminder that, as long as this outbreak continues in DRC, there is a risk of spread to neighbouring countries, although the risk of spread to countries outside the region remains low,” the statement said. “The Committee wishes to commend the heroic work of all responders, who continue to work under extremely challenging and stressful conditions.”

An outbreak often starts with a “spillover event,” meaning the virus is transmitted from an animal — usually a fruit bat or monkey — to a human. Then, the virus can spread from person to person. Experts say controlling the spread of Ebola in these often remote areas requires a respect for and understanding of local culture and customs.

Any response “has to be thoughtful and appropriate,” said Lauren Sauer, director of operations for the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response.

“The community members and local practitioners have to lead the response and lead the activities that support the response,” Sauer told NBC News. “We can’t just parachute in, stop Ebola, and then leave.”

The last time the WHO declared a global emergency related to Ebola was in August 2014, when an outbreak ravaged parts of West Africa.

Throughout that epidemic, which lasted from 2014 to 2016, at least 28,000 suspected cases of Ebola were reported, and more than 11,000 people died, according to the CDC. The vast majority of cases were in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. But cases also stretched into Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.

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