After Ebola spills into Uganda, WHO decides it's not an emergency

Health workers take part in the funeral of Kahumbu Ngalyakuthi who got infected after sharing a hospital room with a patient infected with Ebola in DRC

Health workers take part in the funeral of Kahumbu Ngalyakuthi who got infected after sharing a hospital room with a patient infected with Ebola in DRC

The woman was the grandmother of a five-year-old boy who died on Tuesday evening after crossing into Uganda with his family from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Friday's announcement quickly drew criticism from some experts. His Ugandan family, who had crossed the border to care for their father, returned home just a few days before the boy fell sick, followed by two others. People are still dying outside of Ebola treatment centres - exposing their families to the disease - and many don't appear on lists of known contacts being monitored, he said.

Health workers in this outbreak now have the benefit of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine that is being widely used, with more than 130,000 doses distributed.

The isolation ward for Ebola patients is a tent erected in the garden of the local hospital.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University, said the legal criteria for declaring Ebola a global emergency have always been met, even before the virus reached Uganda.

To be declared a global emergency, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated worldwide response, according to the WHO.

Issuing a number of recommendations, Aavitsland said the emergency committee strongly advises against imposing any global travel or trade restrictions. "Violence persists. We are in this for the long haul", Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said, referring to deadly attacks on health facilities in the DRC.

The current Ebola outbreak began late last summer.

Given the close epidemiologic links of Uganda's three cases and its high level of preparedness, the World Health Organization said the overall risk to the country is moderate and the risk posed to the region by the new cases in Uganda-with no signs of local transmission at this point-is low.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a meeting on Friday of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for the Ebola outbreak in the DRC, which concluded that the disease does not meet all criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The committee "extensively debated" the question, Aavitsland said. "Doing so would raise the levels of global political support, which has been seriously lacking so far, show strong support for DRC and neighbouring countries and World Health Organization, and release more resources, including finance, healthcare workers, enhanced logistics, security and infrastructure", he said. "WHO and partners can not tackle these challenges without the worldwide community stepping in to fill the sizeable funding gap", Ghebreyesus said.

Ian Vale, a regional director for Save the Children in east and southern Africa, said the outbreak's spread into Uganda was a clear warning that not enough was being done to curb the virus.

Several of DRC's neighbors have been preparing for months for the possibility that infected people might cross into their territory. This virus causes sudden high fever and sore throat, with severe weakness and muscle pain. Later symptoms can include internal bleeding, vomiting and coughing up blood.

"We have the people, the tools, the knowledge, and the determination to end this outbreak", he said.

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