News World World Health Organisation declares Ebola a global health emergency
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World Health Organisation declares Ebola a global health emergency

A preacher fell ill with Ebola in the eastern city of Goma earlier this week. Photo: Getty
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The deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo poses a global health threat, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced.

A formal international emergency was declared on Thursday (Australian time), almost a week after the first case of Ebola was confirmed in Goma, a city of about one million people south of the outbreak’s epicentre.

Goma is a major regional crossroads that sits on the border with Rwanda, near an international airport, sparking fears that the disease could spread in a densely-packed urban area.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) was declared because of the “concerning geographic spread of the virus”.

“It is a measure that recognises the possible increased national & regional risks & the need for intensified & coordinated action to manage them,” WHO said in a post on Twitter.

A PHEIC is defined by the WHO as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a very serious public health risk to other states “through the international spread of disease” and “to potentially require a coordinated international response”.

In a media conference, Dr Ghebreyesus said the risk of Ebola spreading “in DRC and the region remains very high” but “the risk of spread outside the region remains low”.

“Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of DRC.”

Ebola has resulted in more than 1650 deaths since the outbreak started in the DRC on August 1, last year. According to the WHO, about 12 new cases are reported every day.

“The fight is ongoing for a full year now,” said Robert Steffen, chairman of the WHO International Health Regulations’ Emergency Committee for Ebola Viral Disease. The committee convened for the fourth time to review the outbreak.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said the outbreak has ramped up to “the highest level of emergency”, in a video posted to Twitter ahead of the meeting.

A WHO expert committee has declined on three previous occasions to advise the UN health agency to declare an international health emergency, despite the death of a five-year-old boy in Uganda back in June.

Experts have feared this for months and maintain that the outbreak has long met the conditions.

Restrictions on travel and trade because of Ebola are unnecessary at this stage, according to the WHO.

The deadly disease is highly infectious and spreads through bodily fluids.

-with AAP