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The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to be considered a public health emergency of international concern, following the fifth Emergency Committee meeting on the subject. 

The Emergency Committee met to discuss the outbreak’s status and to evaluate progress made, as well as what the future might entail.

"This remains a complex and dangerous outbreak. We need the full force of all partners to bring this outbreak under control and to meet the needs of the people affected," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Friday.

The current outbreak was declared on Aug. 1, 2018. As of Oct. 13, 3,228 cases of Ebola had been reported (3,114 confirmed and 114 probable), with 2,123 deaths.

Dr. Tedros noted that the situation continues to improve. 

Last week, there were only 15 new cases, compared with 128 cases during one week in April, at the peak of the outbreak, according to Dr. Tedros. He pointed to expanded screening and contact tracing, better prevention and control efforts, as well as preparedness efforts in neighboring countries, adapted protection methods for health workers, a new data collection tool and new vaccination strategies as reasons behind the outbreak’s improvement. Thanks to new immunization efforts, 230,000 people have been vaccinated to date.

“We should all be pleased with the very impressive progress we have made since the committee last met,” he said.

But Dr. Tedros cautioned against complacency.

“We must treat every case as if it’s the first because every single case has the potential to spark a new and bigger outbreak,” he said. 

Declaring the public health emergency back in July helped with plans to detect cases rapidly, but it was not responsible for the continued decrease in cases.

The committee was hesitant to declare the emergency for this outbreak, but felt the need to do so when a case was reported in Goma, as there was concern of international transmission, as the Rwandan border is located close by.

The risk of spread within the DRC and neighboring countries remains very high, Dr. Tedros said, and the health community continues to face funding constraints.

During the press conference, it was stated that $126 million had been received by various agencies for the strategic response plans for July to December, and that about $267 million more is needed, without accounting for additional investment for preparedness in surrounding countries.

Additional funding has been pledged, but disbursement of the funds continues to be an issue, so the committee is now looking at ways to accelerate the disbursement.

Dr. Tedros praised neighboring countries for keeping their borders open during the outbreak and following the emergency declaration, and Tedros thanked all of the health workers who continue to risk their own safety to bring this outbreak to an end, as security continues to be a major concern.

Although the outbreak has been mostly contained, there is a need to remain vigilant, and the health community continues to highlight the need for investment in epidemic preparedness. 

“If we fail to prepare, we are preparing to fail,” Dr. Tedros said.


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Ebola Outbreak Still Considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

By Jackie Marchildon