The Ebola outbreak which was declared on 1 August 2018 by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has spread to neighbouring Uganda. PSI thus welcomes the prompt decision by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, to reconvene the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.

We urge the IHR Emergency Committee to declare the current Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHIEC). We also seize this opportunity to reiterate the need for building strong public health systems as bulwark for crisis preparedness and for attaining universal health care.

We urge the IHR Emergency Committee to declare the current Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

This is the tenth, and largest Ebola outbreak in the DRC, since 1976. And apart from the 2014-2015 epidemic in West Africa, which spread to 10 countries across the world, it is also the worst outbreak.

There have been over 2,000 cases and more than 1,200 confirmed deaths. But it appeared the transmission intensity of the disease was beginning to ease in the first week of June, with improved security which had enabled improved access to communities in the DRC.

Key figures

10th and largest Ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1976

2,084 total cases

1,990 confirmed cases

1,405 confirmed deaths

Two meetings of the IHR Emergency Committee had been summoned earlier, on this outbreak. On the eve of the second meeting of the committee which took place on 12 April, there was widespread expectation that the outbreak would be declared as a PHIEC, partly due to the challenges arising from it happening in an active war zone, bordering at least two countries in the region.

However, the experts constituting the IHR Emergency Committee believed the outbreak, as widespread as it was and with its attendant challenges of safety and security, could still be contained within the DRC.

We appreciate the deep introspection which goes into declaring a PHIEC, defined as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.

It is likewise important to address the fears of health workers in the DRC over their safety and security.

The situation at hand now is however quite dire and requires drastic steps to be taken to curtail further spread of the outbreak across borders. Apart from ensuring that the highly contagious disease does not spread in Uganda, we also note that Rwanda equally borders the North Kivu province, which is the epicentre of the epidemic in the DRC and is thus at risk as well.

It is likewise important to address the fears of health workers in the DRC over their safety and security. The level of improvement of security remains grossly inadequate for health workers to be at ease.

They are still facing attacks from armed groups, putting their lives at risk. SOLSICO, the PSI health affiliate in DRC has called on the Congolese government to ensure nurses and other health workers involved in the Ebola response are duly insured, to no avail.

Health workers are at the centre of public emergency responses. Their lives and working conditions matter and should be given the due consideration required as all hands are put on deck to tackle this outbreak.