In Summary
  • The WHO panel, which was formed in 2005, has used the label "public health emergency of international concern" only four times previously.
  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is in DRC reviewing the Ebola response, will make the final decision on an emergency declaration based on the committee's advice.
  • The mere fact that cases have crossed a border does not automatically compel WHO to make the emergency declaration, especially as the epidemic is still confined to one contiguous region.
  • WHO has also accused political leaders in the affected region of manipulating the Ebola issue to turn people against health workers.

GENEVA,

The World Health Organization emergency committee was meeting Friday on whether to declare a raging Ebola epidemic an international threat, after an outbreak that began in Democratic Republic of Congo crossed into Uganda.

The WHO panel, which was formed in 2005, has used the label "public health emergency of international concern" only four times previously.

Those included the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the surge of the Zika virus in 2016.

The current Ebola crisis, which began in eastern DRC last August, has recorded more than 2,000 cases, including 1,411 deaths.

DECLARATION

The WHO panel, officially known as the International Health Regulations and Emergency Committee, was meeting by teleconference with experts connecting from Geneva and around the globe.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is in DRC reviewing the Ebola response, will make the final decision on an emergency declaration based on the committee's advice.

WHO held off making the emergency call at previous meetings in October and April, in part because Ebola had not spread internationally.

That changed this week with confirmation that the virus had reached western Uganda, where it has claimed two lives so far.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

A Congolese woman -- who is married to a Ugandan -- as well as her mother, three children and their nanny had travelled to DRC to care for her ill father, who later died of Ebola.

The WHO said 12 members of the family who attended the burial in Congo were placed in isolation in the DRC, but six "escaped and crossed over to Uganda" on June 9.

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