April 15, 2019

WHO stops short of declaring Ebola crisis a global health emergency

 The Ebola outbreak in the DRC still does not warrant the declaration of a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said Friday. This is a decision that is sure to trigger substantial debate as the virus continues to spread unabated, writes STAT, a publication that provides analysis of biotechnology and life sciences.

In the past two weeks, the case count has surged by double digits most days over the past two weeks — a far faster rate than earlier in the epidemic.

“The decision was made by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the basis of a recommendation by a committee of outside experts that has now concluded twice that the outbreak does not warrant an emergency declaration. Tedros said he accepted their advice. The panel’s chairman, Robert Steffen, said there was an explanation for the rising numbers, noting that the new cases are concentrated in or originating from Katwa and Butembo, where the outbreak response teams have had difficulty gaining the cooperation of the communities. “There was turmoil in these areas, which were just not accessible for a certain period of time.”

Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, disagreed with the call. “I do think it’s a mistake. I do think conditions have been met for declaring it. It’s at least as serious as public health emergencies of international concern that have been declared so in the past,” Inglesby told STAT. “And I think it’s a mistake because I think it could have drawn in more international attention, political will and support.”