Ebola spread concentrated in Congo, not a wider emergency - WHO

By

By Stephanie Nebehay and Kate Kelland

GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) - An outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has killed more than 700 people and is continuing to spread does not constitute an international emergency, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

Declaring the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern" would have signalled that greater resources and international coordination are needed.

The WHO's independent Emergency Committee, which analysed the latest data, said the disease was entrenched in several epicentres in the northeast and was being transmitted in health care settings.

It had not spread across borders to Uganda, Rwanda or South Sudan, but neighbouring countries should shore up their preparedness, the experts said.

"It was an almost unanimous vote that this would not constitute a PHEIC (public health emergency of international concern) because we are moderately optimistic that this outbreak can be brought into control - not immediately, but still within a foreseeable time," panel chairman Professor Robert Steffen told a news conference.

Dozens of new cases reported this week have been mainly in the epicentres of Butembe, Katwe and Vuhovi, said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's health emergencies programme.

"It's quite a focused amplification of disease in a very specific geographic area," Ryan said.

"But the disease there has risen because of lack of access to that community, we've fallen behind in starting vaccination rings," he said, referring to attacks on health centres by armed groups in February that cut-off hotspot areas.

"Vaccine is proving to be a highly effective way of stopping this virus but if we can't vaccinate people we cannot protect them," he added, noting that nearly 100,000 people have been vaccinated.

Experts have declared four emergencies in the past decade: the H1N1 virus that caused an influenza pandemic (2009), a major Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2014), polio (2014) and Zika virus (2016).

Some experts expressed concern that the Emergency Committee was too narrowly interpreting WHO guidelines.

"This is a deeply concerning event, due to the pathogen itself, the total number of cases, the increase in cases just this week, and the difficulty of coordinating the response due to conflict - that needs to receive the appropriate level of attention," health experts Rebecca Katz and Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. said in a statement.

The Ebola outbreak - by far the biggest Congo has seen, and the world's second largest in history - was declared by national authorities in August. It is concentrated in Congo's North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

It has already infected at least 1,206 people, of whom 764 have died - giving a death rate of 63 percent.

They include 20 new cases reported by the health ministry on Thursday, another one-day record after 18 on Wednesday. Two workers at the Butembo airport tested positive, it said.

Related Articles

IBD patients who switch from infliximab to biosimilar see mixed results

By Will Boggs MD NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can safely switch from infliximab to the biosimilar CT-P13, though they may face a higher risk of clinical Read More »

Yale study revives cellular activity in pig brains hours after death

By Steve Gorman (Reuters) - Yale University scientists have succeeded in restoring basic cellular activity in pigs' brains hours after their deaths in a finding that may one day lead to advances in Read More »

Penalizing US hospitals for readmissions doesn't benefit heart failure patients

By Marilynn Larkin NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Implementation of the U.S. Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) in the past decade has not been associated with changes in hospital length of Read More »