PHEIC news

Almost a year (51 weeks) since the first 25 cases of fever were reported by the Ministry of Health (MOH) of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 30 2018, the rolling Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak has been labelled a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC.

Photo tweeted by the World Health Organization from the second meeting of experts held in April 2019, to decide whether the DRC outbreak fits the criteria to be called a PHEIC

Why now?

The decision was made on July 17, 2019, by an expert committee on its fourth meeting to examine the need for a PHEIC. Why on the fourth meeting and not previously? They gave the following reasons:

  • A case finally arrived in Goma, a city of almost two million people, a nexus for transport and population centre on the border with Rwanda
  • The need for more technical, financial and human resources and the strengthening of community awareness, engagement and participation
  • The highly mobile populations in the region
  • The absolute requirement to improve security
  • Need to better prevent nosocomial infections
  • Need to focus on the quality of and gaps in interventions
  • An increase in geographical extension of new cases into new areas
  • Steady transmission of about 80 cases per week, with hotspots shifting and old regions becoming active once again, even after a year
  • Vaccine supply was insufficient requiring dose be adjusted

They also reinforced the need to protect livelihoods of the people most affected by the outbreak by keeping transport routes and borders open, making a plea to avoid the punitive economic consequences of travel and trade restrictions on affected communities.

First events after the PHEIC announcement

Some new funds have already appeared since the PHEIC was announced, for example from USAID, the World Bank, Korea and New Zealand’s addition to the Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CEF).

Another change is the resignation of the Health Minister, Dr Oly Illunga and with that, the cessation of detailed daily MOH reports.

Change is needed

It seems self-evident that for the course of a year-long slow-burning EVD outbreak to be changed, the response will also need to change in some way. We all hope that this latest PHEIC news is the driver for this change so that the DRC can finally remove all traces of the latest Ebola virus from its unwilling, long-suffering human targets.

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