Mark Eccleston-Turner, one of the authors of the Lancet paper and a law lecturer at Keele University, said that declaring an international health emergency would not give WHO any more funding but he added: “Its main function is as a signal to the international community that this outbreak is serious, it requires more effort, more resources and a coordinated international response.”
Over 11,000 people died during the last major outbreak of Ebola, with 30,000 cases. The biggest risks remain the same as ever – international travel. Restricting the movements of persons and infected animals might be the only way to contain a major outbreak.
At present there are several experimental vaccines for Ebola that have offered some help. But there isn’t enough vaccine to go around if the outbreak spreads too fast.
Experts call for global alert
Writing in a Lancet commentary today, several global health experts called for the WHO to reconvene its Ebola emergency committee and consider declaring a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) to address the threat of cross-border spread and to trigger more high-level support for the response. Several of the international experts are from Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security.
The emergency committee last met in October 2018, and its members said they didn’t consider the event at that time to be a PHEIC. WHO emergency committees typically meet every 3 months or sooner, if needed.
The authors of the commentary said cases have more than tripled since then, with illnesses detected in 18 health zones and less than 20% of cases coming from known contact lists. They also said a widening outbreak could destabilize the region, especially in South Sudan, where tenuous peace is haunted by continued violence and predicted famine.
Declaring a PHEIC could specify proactive measures that are needed to shore up the response and send a clear signal that UN leadership and high-level political, financial, and technical support are urgently needed.