The first case of Ebola was recognized yesterday in Goma, a city within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that’s home to some 1 million folks. Goma is a hub of transborder traffic between the DRC and Rwanda and hosts an international airport; the discovery heightened fears that the epidemic, now in its 10th month, could become even harder to squelch.
At a 3-hour high-level meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, at this time, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated he is reconvening a special committee “as soon as possible” to consider whether or not the epidemic, which has killed 1665 folks in the DRC, now needs to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), a designation that may rally international assist, however, may also isolate a country when other states impose journey bans, as occurred within the West African Ebola epidemic in 2014. Noting that Goma “is a gateway to the region and the world,” Tedros mentioned the case there “could potentially be a game-changer.” Although the epidemic remains to be confined to the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, within the northeast of the country, “the response is at a critical juncture,” WHO added in a statement launched after the assembly. “WHO assesses the risk of spread to neighboring provinces and countries as very high.”
The Emergency Committee is a group of external consultants convened by WHO to assess whether or not a public health crisis potentially has international reach and requires a global response. Since the outbreak started in August 2018, the committee has convened three times, most recently in June. Every time, it declined to elevate the epidemic to PHEIC status. A WHO spokesperson says the group may reconvene as early as this week.