Expand chart
Data: DRC Ministry of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon, Harry Stevens/Axios

The World Health Organization declined Friday to declare a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern," (PHEIC} its highest alert level, despite a sharp uptick in the number and geographical spread of cases of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Why it matters: This is already the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record, with more than 1,000 cases of the hemorrhagic fever so far, and it's the first to occur in a country where there is widespread civil unrest.

The details: The outbreak, which began in August, has killed 751 and sickened 1,186 as of April 9, according to WHO and DRC Ministry of Health data.

  • During the past few weeks, a dramatic increase in the number of cases, and the prevalence of community cases — patients unknown to health workers who often die at home, exposing caretakers to the virus — have raised concerns and prompted a WHO committee meeting to determine if an emergency declaration was warranted.
  • "The emergency committee almost unanimously decided against recommending a public health emergency of international concern," said Robert Steffen, chair of the WHO's Emergency Committee, during a press conference in Geneva.
  • Steffen said an emergency was not warranted because the outbreak has not spread to any other country, though there's nothing preventing its spread.

Between the lines: The WHO has been criticized for moving too slowly to declare a public health emergency during this outbreak while issuing optimistic outlooks about its ability to contain it, despite a steady rise in cases, an anemic international response effort and multiple deadly attacks on Ebola treatment facilities and workers.

  • According to Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, an emergency declaration is the best option at the WHO's disposal:
"I am deeply disappointed by today’s decision to not declare a PHEIC. The statement that there would be no added benefits of a PHEIC declaration is misplaced. Potential benefits are not criteria by which these decisions should be made. The decision to declare a PHEIC should be made on technical merits, not political ones."
  • Alexandra Phelan, a health expert at Georgetown University, also criticized the WHO's decision:
"The persistence of community and health care workers’ cases and high risk of regional spread means that significantly greater financial, political, and technical support is urgently needed. A PHEIC declaration is intended to garner this support and provide guidance to the international community. This is not only a missed opportunity but undermines the international law developed to safeguard global health.” 

By the numbers: The WHO's director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the WHO needs $104 million until July 31 to close a funding gap in order to continue to fight the disease in the DRC.

  • The WHO says it needs a total of $148 million to carry out its Ebola fight.

But, but but: A lack of an emergency declaration may work against the fundraising effort, Nuzzo says.

  • "The reason that’s been given for not declaring a [Public Health Emergency] has been skepticism that it will result in anything," she says, referring to additional resources from the international community.
  • "While I can understand where that skepticism is coming from ... I also know that not declaring it certainly doesn’t wake up world leaders either."

Go deeper: Ebola outbreak passes 900 cases amid urgent new warnings

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
32 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
37 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
43 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.