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Ebola outbreak an International Health Emergency: WHO

IANS August 08, 2014 15:05 IST
Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) Friday declared the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa as an International Health Emergency.

“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,” the WHO said in a statement issued after a two-day meeting here of its emergency committee.

“It was the unanimous view of the committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met,” it added.

It noted that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa constituted 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,” the WHO statement said.

The current Ebola outbreak started in Guinea in December 2013.

It has now manifested itself in Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone besides Guinea.

As of Aug 4, the countries have reported 1,711 cases (1,070 confirmed, 436 probable, 205 suspect), including 932 deaths.

The virus is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.

“This is currently the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded,” the UN body said.

It also issued a series of guidelines to countries that have reported transmission of the virus.

“The head of state should declare a national emergency; personally address the nation to provide information on the situation, the steps being taken to address the outbreak and the critical role of the community in ensuring its rapid control; provide immediate access to emergency financing to initiate and sustain response operations; and ensure all necessary measures are taken to mobilize and remunerate the necessary health care workforce,” the statement read.

“Health ministers and other health leaders should assume a prominent leadership role in coordinating and implementing emergency Ebola response measures, a fundamental aspect of which should be to meet regularly with affected communities and to make site visits to treatment centres.”

It also advised such countries to activate their national disaster and emergency management mechanisms and establish an emergency operation centre, under the authority of the head of state.

“These measures must include infection prevention and control (IPC), community awareness, surveillance, accurate laboratory diagnostic testing, contact tracing and monitoring, case management, and communication of timely and accurate information among countries,” the WHO said.

It also called for exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings of such countries “for unexplained febrile illness consistent with potential Ebola infection”.

“The exit screening should consist of, at a minimum, a questionnaire, a temperature measurement and, if there is a fever, an assessment of the risk that the fever is caused by EVD,” it said.

“Any person with an illness consistent with EVD should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation. There should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.”

As for unaffected countries, it said those countries with land borders adjoining countries with Ebola transmission “should urgently establish surveillance for clusters of unexplained fever or deaths due to febrile illness; establish access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory for EVD; ensure that health workers are aware of and trained in appropriate IPC procedures; and establish rapid response teams with the capacity to investigate and manage EVD cases and their contacts”.

Any country newly detecting a suspect or confirmed Ebola case or contact, or clusters of unexplained deaths due to febrile illness, should treat this as a health emergency, it said.

Immediate steps should be taken in the first 24 hours to investigate and stop a potential Ebola outbreak by instituting case management, establishing a definitive diagnosis, and undertaking contact tracing and monitoring, the statement added.

It, however, said that there “should be no general ban on international travel or trade”, adding that restrictions outlined in these recommendations regarding the travel of Ebola cases and contacts should be implemented.

“States should provide travellers to Ebola-affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimise those risks, and advice for managing a potential exposure,” the WHO guidelines said.