Apr 12, 2019

WHO stops short of declaring health emergency over DRC Ebola outbreak

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

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes carrying protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 930,000 and the global death toll exceeded 46,000 on Wednesday night, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 13,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 9 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. 1 future thing: Shifts to telemedicine, at-home diagnostics, and drone delivery are all likely lasting consequences from this pandemic.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases surpass 200,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Positive cases of the novel coronavirus passed 213,000 on Wednesday — nearly twice as many as Italy, per Johns Hopkins — as more state governors issued stay-at-home orders for Americans to curb infection.

The state of play: Trump administration officials are anonymously sounding the alarm that America's emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment is running dangerously low, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 18 mins ago - Health