WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Is Not An International Public Health Emergency

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The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo "does not meet the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern," the World Health Organization said Friday. The agency said that while it acknowledges the outbreak's heavy toll, there is still a low threat of it spreading beyond its current region.

The WHO announced the decision days after the first new cases were reported in neighboring Uganda, where a 5-year-old boy died from the disease after traveling from the D.R.C. Two of his relatives — his grandmother and 3-year-old brother — have also died, according to the Associated Press.

"The cluster of Ebola cases in Uganda is not unexpected," the WHO said as it announced the decision. It added that while the outbreak is taking a horrible toll in the D.R.C., the rapid response and containment plan that was put in place along the eastern border with Uganda has worked well.

The WHO said the outbreak "is a health emergency in DRC and the region."

Uganda is monitoring dozens of people who had contact with the family whose members were the country's first Ebola patients. On Thursday, the boys' father and mother, a 6-month-old baby and their maid were sent back to the D.R.C. Uganda's health ministry says they voluntarily agreed to return — and that five more of their relatives in the D.R.C. have tested positive for Ebola.

As of Friday, Uganda had only one suspected case of Ebola in its Ebola treatment unit, according to Ugandan Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng. She added that the patient is currently in isolation, awaiting test results.

Dr. Preben Aavitsland, acting chairperson of the WHO's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, said that "while the outbreak is an extraordinary event, and there's risk of international spread, we believe that the ongoing response would not be enhanced" by the formal steps that an international emergency declaration would trigger.

Issuing a number of recommendations, Aavitsland said the WHO committee strongly advises against imposing any international travel or trade restrictions. He also said the emergency committee "does not consider entry screening at airports or other ports of entry to be necessary."

The current Ebola outbreak began late last summer. As of Wednesday, 2,014 cases and 1,317 deaths were confirmed to be caused by the disease, the WHO said.

Friday marks the third time the WHO's emergency committee has reviewed the deadly outbreak and determined that it does not meet its criteria to be upgraded to an international public health emergency. The WHO committee "extensively debated" the question, Aavitsland said.

As he discussed the decision, Aavitsland made what he called his most important point: "The committee is deeply disappointed that WHO and the affected countries have not received the funding and resources needed for this outbreak."

Addressing the international community, he added, "Step up funding."

As officials work to limit the spread of Ebola, Uganda's health minister, Dr. Aceng, urged everyone in her nation to be vigilant about washing their hands, and "to AVOID shaking hands and any form of body contact as the country faces this Ebola outbreak."

She also said she discourages anyone from holding mass gatherings, where the disease could spread.

As NPR's Scott Neuman recently reported:

"Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood, saliva and vomit. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain and chills. Later symptoms can include internal bleeding, vomiting and coughing up blood. On average, half of the people who contract Ebola die as a result of the disease."

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