August 8, 2014


[The statement called the spread of the disease an “extraordinary event,” describing the potential consequences as “particularly serious.” There is no licensed protocol of treatment or vaccine to halt the disease.]
By Allen Cowell,
LONDONFacing the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus, with almost 1,000 fatalities in West Africa, the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency on Friday, demanding an “extraordinary” response — only the third such declaration of its kind since regulations permitting such alarms were adopted in 2007.
The organization stopped short of saying there should be general international travel or trade bans, but acknowledged that the outbreak, already in its sixth month, was far from being contained.
One major international medical organization, Doctors Without Borders, responded to the statement with a renewed call for a “massive deployment” of health specialists to the stricken countries. “Lives are being lost because the response is too slow,” it said.
Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization's director general, told a news conference at the body's Geneva headquarters: “This is the largest, most severe, most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of the disease.”
“I am declaring the current outbreak of the Ebola virus disease a public health emergency of international concern,” she added. “Countries affected to date simply don’t have the capacity to manage an outbreak on this scale on their own.”
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the W.H.O.'s head of health security, said that “things will get worse for a while,” and, “we are fully prepared for addressing this for some months.”
The W.H.O. urged all states where the disease is spreading to declare a state of emergency, to screen all people leaving at international airports, seaports and land crossings, and to prevent travel by anyone suspected of having the Ebola virus. The move is aimed at containing the disease. But the organization did not recommend a ban on travel to or from places with outbreaks because of the low risk of infection. “We don’t believe a general ban on that kind of travel makes any kind of sense at all,” Dr. Fukuda said.
The declaration was apparently intended to display a more aggressive stance by the health organization. In the past, it has often bent to pressure from member states demanding that there be no consequences even as epidemics have raged inside their borders and sometimes slipped over them.
But health specialists remain critical of the international response.
“Declaring Ebola an international public health emergency shows how seriously W.H.O. is taking the current outbreak; but statements won’t save lives,” said Bart Janssens, the director of operations at Doctors Without Borders, which says it has hundreds of specialists in the field in West Africa.
“Countries possessing necessary capacities must immediately dispatch available infectious disease experts and disaster relief assets to the region,” he said in a statement. “It is clear the epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment on the ground from these states.”
According to figures released by the W.H.O. this week, the virus has claimed 932 lives since March. Most of the cases are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but nine cases have also been reported in Nigeria, where one person died after traveling there from Liberia.
The total number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases, including the fatalities, was 1,711.
“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,” the W.H.O. said in a statement after a two-day meeting of its emergency committee on the outbreak.
The statement called the spread of the disease an “extraordinary event,” describing the potential consequences as “particularly serious.” There is no licensed protocol of treatment or vaccine to halt the disease.
The W.H.O. listed a series of worrisome factors in its spread, including “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.”
The W.H.O. made similar emergency declarations to counter swine flu in 2009 and polio in May. But public health experts say the declaration on polio has not reversed or slowed its international spread.
In dealing with the Ebola crisis, the W.H.O. said on Friday, stricken countries faced an array of challenges, with “fragile” health services backed by few resources, and inexperienced personnel confronting “misperceptions” of the disease among highly mobile populations. “A high number of infections have been identified among health care workers, highlighting inadequate infection control practices in many facilities,” the statement said.
But the body also said that the disease could be contained. “This is not a mysterious disease,” Dr. Fukuda said in a telephone briefing with journalists. “This is an infectious disease that can be contained. It is not a virus that is spread through the air.”
Ms. Chan said she hoped that Friday’s declaration would “galvanize” leaders of all countries to act. “It cannot be done by the ministries of health alone,” she said.
Also on Friday, news reports said a suspected case of Ebola had been detected in Uganda, the first such report from East Africa. A traveler from South Sudan was isolated with Ebola-like symptoms of fever, and physicians were awaiting the results of tests, airport officials were quoted as saying. Uganda’s last known outbreak of Ebola was in 2012. Earlier suspicions that Ebola had reached Uganda in late July were dismissed as a false alarm.
In Europe, a Spanish citizen, the only known European to contract the disease, has been flown home from Liberia for medical attention. The European Union said on Friday that the risk to Europeans remained “extremely low.”
Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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