A 13-member WHO committee says the DRC's Ebola outbreak that has claimed the lives of over 2,000 people is not an international emergency, but local one.
A special World Health Organization (WHO) committee has decided to not declare an international emergency of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Ebola outbreak despite its spread to Uganda this week, saying to do so would cause too much economic harm on the already poverty-stricken nation.
"This is not a global emergency, it is an emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Dr. Preben Aavitsland, the committee's acting chair, told the press at the United Nations Geneva headquarters. This is the third time the WHO has decided against calling this outbreak an international emergency.
Congo's epidemic is the second worst ever, with 2,108 cases of Ebola and 1,411 deaths since last August. This week, three cases were recorded in Uganda. Two of them died already.
In a statement, the 13-member WHO committee of independent medical experts asked surrounding "at risk" countries to improve their preparedness for detecting and managing Ebola cases, "as Uganda has done (because this is) a severe emergency and it may affect neighboring counties."
Their joint statement went on: "It was the view of the Committee that there is really nothing to gain by declaring a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern), but there is potentially a lot to lose."
These types of international declarations could restrict travel and trade "that could severely harm the economy in the Democratic Republic of Congo," Aavitsland said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Reuters: "The spread of Ebola to Uganda is a new development but the fundamental dynamics of the outbreak haven't changed."
Ugandan authorities have a list of 98 people potentially exposed to the Ebola virus, 10 of whom are considered "high risk", said Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's emergencies program. These nearly 100 potentially infected will begin an experimental vaccine June 15, said the director.
Some medical groups disagree with the committee's decision and, saying the emergency declaration could lead to more international resources and funding
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity and a specialist in infectious diseases, said in a statement: "I respect the advice of the emergency committee but do believe a Public Health Emergency of International Concern would have been justified."
He added that declaring an emergency would have raised levels of international political support "which has been lacking to date," and enhanced diplomatic, public health, security and logistic efforts.
Only four emergencies have been declared in the past decade, including the worst ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016.