Ebola outbreak

Several health workers in Guinea are seen here taking precautions to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The World Health Organization released its summary today of the meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee that concerned the latest Ebola outbreak that has strongly hit Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

The Emergency Committee met Aug. 6 – 7, and its members declared unanimously that the situation has met all the criteria to be considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Both meetings were conducted via teleconferencing, and the first day included an informational session in which Emergency Committee members and advisors met with representatives from the four nations previously listed — those nations in which the virus is spreading.

WHO provided description of the progression of the current outbreak. It reads as follows:

The current EVD outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013. This outbreak now involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. As of 4 August 2014, countries have reported 1,711 cases (1,070 confirmed, 436 probable, 205 suspect), including 932 deaths. This is currently the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded.

Emergency Committee members declared the PHEIC due largely to the outbreak in West Africa constituting an “extraordinary event” that threatens other states, having the possibility of spreading internationally, and requiring an international defense to stop and reverse a possible international spread. The detail underlying these elements is multifaceted and is laid out in full within recommendations the committee made to the affected countries battling the virus.

The threat does not only rest on the deadly nature of Ebola. There are also several challenges each affected country faces in their fight against the outbreak. The Emergency Committee noted that the countries’ health systems are fragile regarding their availability to provide human, financial, and material resources to stop the spread; they are inexperienced and may have misconceptions about how the disease is transmitted; they have highly mobile populations that may cross borders into other countries; multiple generations of transmissions have occurred in the capital cities of Conakry in Guinea, Monrovia in Liberia, and Freetown in Sierra Leone; and several health care workers in the countries have also contracted the disease.

All that considered, WHO also made several recommendations about what the countries’ officials should do in the days ahead. WHO suggested declaring national emergencies, allowing health ministers to provide leadership, using disaster management mechanisms, ensuring the supply of medical equipment, and paying close attention to areas where there has been elevated rates of transmission. The suggestions listed here do not comprise a full list, and the breadth of the situation marks it substantially as a PHEIC that not only needs cooperation from the previously-listed countries but from the international community.

WHO stated that it will reevaluate the situation in three months with another emergency session similar to the one that took place the past couple of days.

Image courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection via Flickr