WHO extends international emergency despite progress in affected areas

On February 12, 2020, the World Health Organization extended the qualification of the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an international emergency, despite a recent drop in the number of cases deemed “extremely positive”.

It is not only the coronavirus which mobilizes the energies of lWorld Health Organization (WHO), located in Geneva. There is also Ebola virus, whose last epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was declared in August 2018. Part of the locality of Mangina in North Kivu, which today has been emptied of its inhabitants, the epidemic has continued to rage in this region and has spread to that of Ituri, also plagued by ethnic violence. About 2,300 deaths have been recorded, with a decrease in increase in death toll considered extremely positive by specialists in the disease. Is it therefore possible to say that the Ebola epidemic must stop being considered a global emergency?

No, answered the WHO on February 12, 2020. While declaring himself certainly optimistic in the face of the decrease in recently registered cases, the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, remains cautious for the future. We are very encouraged by the current trend“, with”only three cases in the past week and none in the past three days“he said to the press. However,”as long as we don't have a case for 42 days, it's not over“, he underlined, with reference to the safety period corresponding to twice the duration of incubation. And to insist that “It is not over. A single case can restart the epidemic.“To which is added a concern related to the security situation”brittle“which prevails in eastern DRC.

In the infographic below, produced by Le Monde in 2015, everyone can understand the process of transmission of the Ebola virus.

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The decision to reclassify the disease or not rests with the WHO Emergency Committee, a group of international experts which meets every three months as soon as an epidemic is declared. The qualification in July 2019 of “global health emergency“was decided after the diagnosis of a patient with the virus in the city of Goma, the first case in a large urban center.

The fight against this hemorrhagic fever is regularly disrupted by insecurity due to armed violence in the provinces of Beni and Ituri. In November 2019, the WHO announced that it had to withdraw 49 of its personnel from the Beni region due to insecurity.

The resistance of part of the population (denial of the disease, refusal of vaccination, hospitalization of infected relatives and burials) also complicates the task of humanitarian workers. This epidemic in the DRC is the most serious in the history of Ebola since the one that affected West Africa – mainly Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – between the end of 2013 and 2016. The virus has been identified in 1976 in central Africa.

Transmitted by the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of a patient or a recently deceased person, the mortality rate from Ebola is particularly high, up to 90%, in certain cases, according to the WHO.


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