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WHO Emergency Committee expresses ‘deep concern’ about Ebola risk

A recent meeting of a WHO Emergency Committee convened to consider the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has concluded that there is an increasing risk of spread to adjoining countries.

The Committee determined that the ongoing Ebola outbreak does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), however, the Committee ‘wished to express their deep concern about the recent increase in transmission in specific areas, and therefore the potential risk of spread to neighbouring countries’.

‘While there is no added benefit to declaring a PHEIC at this stage, there was concern about current levels of transmission requiring close attention to the evolving situation’ said the Committee, which advised the WHO Director General to continue to monitor the situation closely and reconvene the Emergency Committee as needed.

The Committee also said that ‘because there is a very high risk of regional spread, neighbouring countries should continue to accelerate current preparedness and surveillance efforts, including vaccination of health care workers and front-line workers in surrounding countries’.

In addition, cross-border collaboration should continue to be strengthened, including timely sharing of data and alerts, cross-border community engagement and awareness raising; and work should be done to better map population movements and understand social networks bridging national boundaries.

The Committee maintained its previous advice that it is particularly important that no international travel or trade restrictions should be applied. ‘Exit screening, including at airports, ports, and land crossings, is of great importance; however, entry screening, particularly in distant airports, is not considered to be of any public health or cost-benefit value’ said the Committee.

The Committee strongly emphasized the critical need to strengthen currents efforts in both preparedness and response. This will require substantial, immediate and sustained additional financial support.

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