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WHO sounds global alarm over DR Congo Ebola outbreak

DR Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak – its tenth to date – has killed more than 1,600 people since August 2018 [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a global public health emergency, the United Nations health agency has announced, just days after the epidemic spread to a major urban hub for the first time.

The declaration was made following a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting of its emergency committee in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday. 

It is a measure that recognises the possible increased national and regional risks and the need for intensified and coordinated action to manage them,” WHO said in a post on Twitter.

The UN agency also said no country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel or trade because of Ebola.

The deadly disease is highly infectious and spreads through bodily fluids. The current outbreak has killed 1,676 people – more than two-thirds of those who contracted it – since it emerged in August 2018.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement it was “time for the world to take notice” of the epidemic and called for a redoubling of efforts to battle it back.

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WHO’s move marks only the fifth such designation of its kind, after the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America.

New case in Uganda

WHO reported a new incidence of Ebola in Uganda earlier on Wednesday, fuelling concerns that the virus may be spreading beyond the DRC’s borders. The virus caused three deaths in the country last month.

The latest incidence of the virus outside of the DRC came after the country’s health ministry on Sunday confirmed the first registered case of the virus in Goma, a city of some two million people in eastern North Kivu province and close to the border with Rwanda.

Outside of the cases in Uganda and Goma, the Ebola outbreak has been confined to more rural regions of North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province.

Combined, the two provinces border Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

A toxic mix of active armed groups and deep-rooted mistrust of health officials among local communities have hampered efforts to halt the virus there with nearly 2,500 cases registered so far, according to DRC’s Health Ministry.

Unidentified attackers killed two Ebola health workers near Mukulia in North Kivu over the weekend, the latest in a string of assaults this year that have killed or injured dozens of responders.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies