The deadly Ebola outbreak in the Congo is now declared an international health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people.
This is only the fifth time in history a global health emergency has been declared. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, also the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio.
A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the required conditions.
More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.
A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.
The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Also, a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola.
While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva.