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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The new politics of global warming

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Getty Images photos: Ethan Miller and Chip Somodevilla

The 2020 election is both very different and very familiar when it comes to the politics of global warming and the stakes of the outcome.

What's new: Democratic voters are more concerned than in prior presidential cycles, polling shows.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
30 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Pinpointing climate change's role in extreme weather

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photos: David McNew and George Rose

Climate scientists are increasingly able to use computer models to determine how climate change makes some extreme weather more likely.

Why it matters: Climate change's effects are arguably felt most directly through extreme events. Being able to directly attribute the role climate plays in natural catastrophes can help us better prepare for disasters to come, while driving home the need to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
35 mins ago - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

Big Tech takes the climate change lead

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photo: Jit Chattopadhyay/Pacific Press/LightRocket

The tech industry is playing a growing role in fighting climate change, from zero-carbon commitments to investments in startups and pushing for the use of data to encourage energy efficiency.

Why it matters: Big Tech is already dominating our economy, politics and culture. Its leadership in helping to address climate change — and reckon with its role in contributing to it — could have similarly transformative impacts.