There is a risk the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could spread to neighbouring countries.
The disease however is not at a point where it constitutes, “a public health emergency of international concern”, according to a statement issued on Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But acknowledging the potential risk that the disease may spread to neighbouring countries, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed on behalf of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee, “deep concern” over a recent surge in the transmission of the virus in specific areas, namely North Kivu and Ituri provinces, both of which are heavily populated by armed groups.
Latest data indicates a total of 1,206 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in this latest deadly outbreak in DRC which began last August, while 764 people have died up to last Wednesday, making the oubreak – which is endemic in the DRC – the worst in the country’s history. The numbers spiked this week, with 20 new cases on Wednesday alone.
The concern for health officials is that the DRC is right in the heart of Central Africa and has borders with a large number of countries: Angola, Kenya, Zambia, Gabon, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan, Burundi and Uganda.
Because there is a very high risk of regional spread, the Committee said that neighbouring countries should continue to accelerate preparedness and surveillance, including vaccinating healthcare and front-line workers in surrounding countries.
The Emergency Committee recommended that cross-border collaboration be strengthened, including through the timely sharing of Ebola data and alerts; community engagement, and awareness-raising.
Moreover, work should be done to better map population movements and understand the community networks which bridge national boundaries. The Committee maintained its previous advice that no international travel or trade restrictions should be applied.
While exit screening, including at airports, ports, and land crossings, is of great importance, entry screening is not considered beneficial, said the committee.
The Committee commended efforts of the Government, WHO and other partners in containing the outbreak “in a complex and difficult setting” and advised the WHO Director-General “to continue to monitor the situation closely and reconvene the Emergency Committee as needed”.
Democratic Republic the Congo is the third largest country on the African continent, housing more than 81 million people.
Up to the end of March, more than 320 patients with Ebola had recovered and been discharged from treatment centres, according to the DRC government’s health ministry.