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WHO Declares Ebola Virus Epidemic an International Emergency

Outbreak in Africa is largest ever recorded

The first meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) was convened on August 6–7 to provide an update on and an assessment of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

After discussion and deliberation, the committee advised that:

  • the Ebola outbreak constitutes an “extraordinary event” and a public health risk to other countries;
  • the possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health-facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries; and
  • a coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD).

It was the unanimous view of the committee that the conditions for a “public health emergency of international concern” have been met.

The current outbreak of EVD began in Guinea in December 2013. The outbreak now involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. As of August 4, a total of 1,711 cases have been reported (1,070 confirmed, 436 probable, and 205 suspect), including 932 deaths. This is currently the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded.

In response to the outbreak, a number of unaffected countries, including the U.S., have made a range of travel-related recommendations. The WHO’s emergency committee stated, however, that there should be no general ban on international travel to or trade with affected countries.

The committee’s general recommendations also included the following:

  • Countries should provide travelers to Ebola-affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimize those risks, and advice for managing potential exposure.
  • Countries should be prepared to detect, investigate, and manage Ebola cases; this should include assured access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory for EVD and, where appropriate, the capacity to manage travelers originating from known Ebola-infected areas who arrive at international airports or major land crossing points with unexplained febrile illness.
  • The general public should be provided with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and with measures to reduce the risk of exposure.
  • Countries should be prepared to facilitate the evacuation and repatriation of nationals, such as health workers, who have been exposed to the Ebola virus.

Source: WHO; August 8, 2014.

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