Despite decreasing cases in West Africa, the Ebola outbreak still poses a global health emergency and requires another $1 billion in donations, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.
The dual announcements come one day after the WHO convened its fourth emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing epidemic, which has now infected 21,689 people and killed more than 8,600. While the emergency committee noted the outbreak seems to be slowing in the three worst-affected countries — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — there was unanimous agreement that the situation is still an international emergency.
Meanwhile in Davos, Switzerland, the UN’s special envoy for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said more money is still needed to wipe out the virus once and for all. The most challengeing chapter still lies ahead because workers now have “to go to every single nook and cranny and find people who’ve got Ebola or are suspected of having it, and bring them into treatment quickly.”
“The primary emphasis must continue to be on ‘getting to zero’ Ebola cases, by stopping the transmission of Ebola within the three most affected countries,” the WHO said in a statement Wednesday. “Complacency is the biggest risk to not getting to zero cases. Continued vigilance is essential.”
The WHO first declared the Ebola epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” on Aug. 8, 2014, calling the epidemic an “extraordinary event” that posed a risk to other countries. The declaration — which some have criticized for coming too late — allows the UN health agency to recommend travel and trade restrictions to prevent the disease from spreading further.
But during its latest meeting, the committee censured the more than 40 countries that have implemented measures that go beyond the WHO’s recommendations.
Canada, for one, has suspended the processing of new visas from the three countries hardest hit by the epidemic — a move that has been criticized as undermining the International Health Regulations, or IHR. The treaty, updated after the 2003 SARS outbreak, is meant to encourage governments to report emerging outbreaks while protecting them from unnecessary travel and trade restrictions imposed by other countries.
“Any country applying additional measures must do so on the basis of scientific principles and available scientific evidence,” the WHO said.
Recent weeks have been signs of progress on the Ebola front lines but experts warn against growing complacent. This outbreak has been particularly unpredictable and even a single missed case could reignite the crisis.
The WHO committee urged the three worst-affected countries to keep up their exit screening measures and for border nations to stay vigilant with their surveillance. All other countries “need to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel and trade,” the WHO committee said.
“Such measures are impeding the recruitment and return of international responders,” the WHO said. “They also have harmful effects on local populations by increasing stigma and isolation, and by disrupting livelihoods and economies.”
- With files from Toronto Star wire services