GENEVA - The World Health Organization says the risk of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic spreading to other countries has gone down considerably, but that the deadly virus is still considered a "public health emergency of international concern."
Despite progress toward ending the 15-month epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the WHO's emergency committee of experts says it is premature for the international community to let its guard down.
"The virus is still moving," WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward said. "There are still cases that are coming [that are] not off [the] contact list, [and they are] still having deaths in the community, etc.,
Measures to curb oubreak
Aylward says contact tracing has been essential to keeping tabs on people who might be at risk of getting Ebola, as it allows communities to keep the movement of the disease under control.
The senior WHO official says two other measures — exit screening by Ebola-affected countries and preparedness by these countries to rapidly address any new transmission — are important to prevent new cases of Ebola from emerging.
Aylward says the emergency committee recommended that some temporary travel restrictions should remain in place, and it reiterated the importance of maintaining exit screening for at least 42 days after the last Ebola patient has tested negative.
“And then, probably, the strongest recommendation was for all other countries that they avoid any unnecessary interference with international travel and trade and transport," he said. "And implement only the measures that are commensurate with the ... current public health risk and the current temporary recommendations.”
The committee also opposed what it calls inappropriate health measures being implemented by some countries. These include quarantining - or refusing entry in some cases — of travelers returning from Ebola-affected countries.
WHO reports there were only 30 confirmed cases of Ebola in the three West African countries last week. This is down from 150 cases three weeks ago and is the lowest number in nearly a year.