The WHO announced on Wednesday that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now a public health emergency. The Ebola virus, the WHO said, has spread to a city of two million people.
The Ebola virus was confirmed in Goma, a major city in northeastern Congo. This is the fifth such declaration in history. The outbreak in Congo has killed more than 1,600 people since August 2018, the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. The Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016, killed more than 11,000 people.
WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
The risk of regional spread is high, the WHO said after announcing the emergency, but allayed fears that the risk of the virus spreading outside the region was not high. The outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative.
The organisation has been heavily criticised for its slow response to the West Africa outbreak. A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak. Experts say the declaration was long overdue.