The pandemic is the second largest after the one that hit West Africa in 2014.
The World Health Organization declared Wednesday the Ebola outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, calling for the international community’s support.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” said WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom in a statement.
The declaration comes as the outbreak reached on Tuesday eastern Congo’s main city, Goma, a city of two million people and a hub of international travel which is located at the Rwandan border.
The outbreak had been until then confined to the rural towns of Butembo and Beni in the northern Kivu province. The news of a first death in Goma raised serious concerns that the outbreak could rapidly spread to new locations.
WHO has been criticized for refusing to declare the international emergency months ago when medical teams repeatedly warned the outbreak was taking a turn for the worse.
Internal documents later showed that WHO did not undertake the move earlier out of fear it would anger the DRC’s authorities and hurt the country’s economy, as the 2014 outbreak had led to travel bans, trade restrictions, and closure of borders.
BREAKING NEWS: The #Ebola outbreak in #DRC constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, citing concerning geographical expansion of the virus: WHO Director-General, @DrTedros following the IHR Emergency Committee’s recommendation #alert— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 17, 2019
Ebola’s crisis grew rapidly since it resurfaced in August 2018, it has so far infected more than 2,500 people and killed more than 1,700. The pandemic is the second largest behind the one that hit West Africa in 2014 as the virus is highly contagious, spreading through direct contact with blood or other body fluids including saliva, mucus, sweat, tears, breast milk, among others.
"Every day, women, men and children are dying of the Ebola virus and it is becoming too easy to forget that the ever-climbing case numbers are people," said Laura Miller, acting DRC director for U.S.-based NGO Mercy Corps, welcoming WHO's declaration.
Active armed groups and communities’ profound distrust in the medical health teams have so far hindered the efforts to stop the outbreak.
However, and among the unrest, health workers have managed to vaccinate around 160,000 people. The vaccine is estimated to be 97 percent effective and according to WHO it can protect a person up to 12 months.
International health emergency declarations help to raise global attention, leading to an increase in aid. WHO had declared a global health emergency four times before this one: in 2009 for the Flu pandemic, in 2014 for the Ebola outbreak and for Polio, and in 2016 for the Zika virus.