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Staff from South Sudan's Health Ministry carry out a dinsinfection excercise during a drill for Ebola preparedness in case the virus spreads from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2019. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the low number of new cases of Ebola reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — three in the past six days — the World Health Organization said Wednesday the outbreak should retain its global health emergency status.

The big picture: With the attention of a large portion of the world focused now on another official global health emergency, the spread of the novel coronavirus, there's a danger that much-needed focus and funding for the DRC may be lost at a perilous time as the country tries to stamp out this deadly outbreak once and for all.

"We decided to maintain a PHEIC [public health emergency of international concern] despite cautious optimism because we do see a risk of some resurgence and a risk of complacency."
— Robert Steffen, chair of WHO's emergency committee for Ebola, at press briefing

What's happening: As of Feb. 10, there's been a total of 3,431 confirmed and probable cases and 2,253 deaths (66%) since the outbreak started Aug. 1, 2018.

  • From Feb. 3–9, there were only three new confirmed cases, and those were registered as contacts, with two under surveillance. This means the chance they infected other people is lower than if they had not been a known contact.
  • The WHO downgraded the Ebola risk from very high to high in the DRC and the region.

Yes, but: There needs to be no new cases for double the incubation period, or 42 days, before the outbreak is determined to be over.

What they're saying: Stephen Morrison, SVP at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells Axios, "The number of cases is down dramatically, and that's a good thing. ... But, there was chaos a short while ago and I'm skeptical it has been vanquished."

  • For instance, the ADF is responsible for a Feb. 8 attack that killed 13 and kidnapped around 20.
  • There's also rampant distrust in government and health care workers in the community, which will take a long time to overcome, Morrison points out.

What's next: The WHO says much work needs to be done to prevent and help the DRC with any future outbreaks, including constructing water access for health facilities and fostering vaccination for other diseases in circulation, like measles.

  • "Strengthening a health system may not be as sexy as responding to an outbreak, but it is equally important," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the briefing. Without a solid health care system, "Our greatest fear remains the damage this coronavirus could do in a country like DRC."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

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Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

5 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.