Ebola outbreak: Deadly epidemic declared international public health emergency by WHO

World Health Organisation takes stand as experts predict it will take ‘three to six months’ months to end outbreak

The deadly Ebola epidemic that has ripped through West Africa has been declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO’s director general Dr Margaret Chan said the current outbreak is the "most severe and most complex" in the nearly four decades of the history of the disease on Friday.

The committee’s decision on declaring the international state of emergency was "unanimous" Dr Chan said, adding that the declaration "alerts the world to the need for high vigilance of possible cases of Ebola," though she acknowledged that many countries would not be affected by the virus.

Dr Chan said the announcement is a "clear call for international solidarity" over the outbreak, which is the largest and longest in history.

 

"Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own," Dr Chan said. "I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible."

WHO added that while all countries with Ebola transmission, namely Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, should declare a national emergency, there should be no general ban on international travel or trade.

The decision comes as a Spanish missionary infected with the virus while working in Liberia became the first case to be treated in Europe after he was flown home on Thursday, after the Liberian president declared a state of emergency over the outbreak that has killed 961 people in West Africa.

New figures from the World Health Organisation show 29 new deaths reported on 5 and 6 August, while 68 new cases have been reported, bringing the total to 1,779. Four of the cases were reported in Nigeria, the most recent country that the virus has spread to. No new cases have been reported in Guinea, where the outbreak began in February.

Liberian soldiers have now set up a blockade to stop people from the affected western regions entering the capital of Monrovia, while Sierra Leone has imposed a complete blockade of eastern areas suffering from Ebola.

There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the current death rate has reportedly been around 50 per cent.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the organisation’s head of health security, reiterated that the severity of the outbreak has been down to fragile health systems and serious lack of human, financial and material resources in the countries that are currently affected, but stressed that with the right steps, the spread of the infection can be stopped.

Read more: UK officials 'not prepared' to deal with Ebola
Ebola: Symptoms, signs and source of the deadly virus
What are the biggest risks to the world's health?

“This is not a mysterious disease. This is an infectious disease that can be contained. It is not a virus that is spread through the air,” he said.

The organisation has asked medical ethics experts to explore the possibility of offering experimental drugs to Africans next week, after two US charity workers who were infected in Liberia and are now being treated in a specialist isolation unit in Atlanta, America, appear to be improving after receiving the drugs.

A Liberian foreign minister has said that the health care system in Liberia is collapsing as hospitals shut down and medical workers flee from the Ebola epidemic A Liberian foreign minister has said that the health care system in Liberia is collapsing as hospitals shut down and medical workers flee from the Ebola epidemic Health experts have stressed that it is not yet known whether the drugs are helping their apparent recovery or not.

But medical bodies have criticised the effectiveness of WHO's move: "Statements won't save lives," said Dr Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders. "For weeks, [we] have been repeating that a massive medical, epidemiological and public health response is desperately needed. Lives are being lost because the response is too slow."

Likewise, Dr David Heymann, who directed WHO's response to the SARS outbreak and now works as a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he didn't know what the advantage of declaring an international emergency would be.

"This could bring in more foreign aid but we don't know that yet," he said.

Video: Volunteer doctor in Sierra Leone talks about Ebola virus

In the United States, Dr Tom Frieden, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told Congress that ending the Ebola crisis will be a “long and hard fight,” and said it would take at least three to six months to end the outbreak, adding that this time frame would be a best-case scenario.

Samaritan’s Purse’s vice president Ken Isaacs said a huge problem in curtailing the outbreak will be persuading African communities to abandon their traditional rituals when people have died, which involves washing the body and kissing the corpse immediately after death, which is when it is most infectious.

Aid workers have been attacked when trying to intervene in these processes, he added.

Additional reporting by agencies

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower