GENEVA - An emergency meeting convened by the World Health Organization has decided the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern. However, the expert committee warns lack of funding threatens to hamper the ability to contain the deadly virus.
More than 1,400 people have died from Ebola in eastern DR Congo and more than 2,100 are infected with this fatal disease. This makes the epidemic in conflict-ridden North Kivu province the second largest after the West African outbreak in 2014, which killed some 11,300 people.
The recent spread of the Ebola virus into neighboring Uganda and deaths of two people prompted the World Health Organization to gather a group of experts to reassess the current situation and challenges ahead.
However, despite the grim tally and uncertain outlook, Acting Chair of the Emergency Committee, Preben Aavitsland, says the committee agrees the outbreak is a health emergency in the DRC and in the region, but poses a very low risk to countries outside the region. Indeed, he warns of serious consequences for the DRC by declaring the outbreak a global emergency.
“We risk to see restrictions on travel and trade. We risk to see airlines stopping their flights to the area," said Aavitsland. "And, we also risk border closures or restrictive measures at border that could severely harm the economy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Aavitsland says the committee decided there was little to gain, but much to lose by declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
He says the most serious issue facing the Ebola operation is lack of international support. He says WHO and the affected countries have not received the funding and resources needed to bring the epidemic to an end.
He warns lack of funding is hampering preparedness efforts in Uganda and other countries neighboring the DRC. And, this, he warns increases their vulnerability to the potential spread of the virus.
WHO reports it needs $98 million through July, but is running a shortfall of $54 million. It is calling on the international community to step up and fill this gap as soon as possible.