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Ebola Outbreak Not a Global Health Emergency, Declares WHO

The agency also shares preliminary results of an Ebola vaccine trial showing that it is 97.5 percent effective at protecting from infection.

Apr 15, 2019
Chia-Yi Hou

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In a decision announced on April 12, the World Health Organization does not declare the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency because the disease is currently limited to two provinces, reports Science. On the same day, WHO reported the efficacy of an Ebola vaccine that is going through a preliminary trial to be 97.5 percent at preventing infection, reports STAT.

The current outbreak began in August 2018, and 1,200 cases have been reported since then, reports STAT.

“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,” Robert Steffen of the University of Zurich who chaired the WHO panel said at a news conference, reports Reuters.

The previous Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea from 2014 to 2016 resulted in 28,600 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts are split on whether making the outbreak an international emergency would help the current situation. “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,” Tom Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tells STAT. “And I think it’s a mistake because I think it could have drawn in more international attention, political will and support.” But David Fidler of Indiana University says that declaring this outbreak a global emergency declaration “would not on its own change the trajectory of this outbreak,” reports STAT.

Officials have administered an experimental Ebola vaccine to nearly 94,000 people from August 1, 2018 to March 25, 2019, according to the WHO report. With 71 cases occurring out of all vaccinated individuals, the vaccine is estimated to have a 97.5 percent efficacy rate, states the report. “[T]he real challenges are not about ‘Does the vaccine work?’ It’s whether the vaccine gets used,” says Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota to STAT. “Frankly this is outstanding.”

In the last two weeks, there’s been an increased rate in the number of new cases, to double digits per day, due to a lack of access to services and because the outbreak area is in a conflict zone, reports STAT. “WHO has noted it is woefully short of the $148 million it says is needed to fight Ebola for the next six months,” reports the Associated Press. After nine months, “the epidemic is definitely not under control,” Trish Newport of Doctors Without Borders tells the AP. Of dealing with operating in a conflict zone, David Filder tells STAT, “WHO is not equipped to deal with this.”

“Given the average number of cases we’re seeing now, this is not going to be over for at least another six months or more,” Tariq Riebl of the International Rescue Committee tells the AP.

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