Geneva, Aug 9 (AFP) : The World Health Organisation on Friday declared the killer Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa an international health emergency and appealed for global aid to help afflicted countries.
The decision came after a rare, two-day closed-door session of the UN health body’s emergency committee, which urged exit screening of all people flying out of affected countries, where nearly 1,000 people have died.
The WHO stopped short of calling for global travel restrictions, urging airlines to take strict precautions but to continue flying to the area. And it called on countries and airports around the globe to be prepared to “detect, investigate and manage” Ebola cases if they should arise.
The WHO move comes as US health authorities admitted on Thursday that Ebola’s spread beyond West Africa was “inevitable”, and after medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the deadly virus was now “out of control” with more than 60 outbreak hotspots.
WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan appealed for greater help for the countries hit by the “largest, most severe and most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of this disease”. “I am declaring the current outbreak a public health emergency of international concern,” Chan said, stressing the “serious and unusual nature of the outbreak”.
Defining the epidemic as a public health emergency of international concern — a label only used twice before, during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009 and last May for the reemergence of polio in a number of countries — “alerts the world on the need for high vigilance,” she said.
However, she noted that only a small part of the African continent had been affected.A patient in Uganda tested negative for Ebola as fears were sparked of a spread to East Africa. Meanwhile Benin — to the east of the main affected countries — awaited test results from two patients with Ebola-like symptoms.
Ebola has claimed at least 932 lives and infected more than 1,700 people since breaking out in Guinea earlier this year, according to the WHO.
States of emergency were in effect in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — something WHO said was a first necessary step to bringing the outbreak under control.