The World Health Organization has deemed the Ebola outbreak in Congo a public health emergency of international concern.
Ebola is highly infectious and spread through bodily fluids. The current outbreak is largely confined to Congo apart from three deaths in Uganda last month.
The viral disease has killed 1,676 people — more than two-thirds of those who contracted it Congo — over the past year.
Health officials and responders hope declaring the global health emergency will bring more international attention and aid.
"It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] to end this outbreak and build a better health system," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said in a statement Wednesday declaring the emergency.
"Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO, but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden."
Tracking people exposed, vaccinations needed
WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response.
The rare but severe and often fatal illness in humans is transmitted from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human contact, says WHO.
The health response relies on tracking down people who may have been exposed to the virus, and vaccinating them as well as anybody they've been in close contact with in the previous three weeks.
The WHO says early symptoms, which can be sudden, include:
- Muscle pain.
- Sore throat.
As the disease progresses, there can be symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Lab findings could include low white blood cell and platelet counts, and elevated liver enzymes.
This week, the first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads on the Rwandan border with an international airport.
Despite the emergency declaration, WHO stressed there should be no restrictions on travel or trade, and no entry screening of passengers at ports or airports outside the immediate region.
There was no immediate reaction to WHO's emergency declaration from Congo's Health Ministry, which had lobbied against it on the grounds the risk of Ebola spreading to other cities or regions in Congo remained the same.
Experimental vaccine involves Canadians
There is no licensed Ebola treatment, but early care that includes rehydration helps to improve chances of survival. Some patients in this outbreak in Congo have received experimental treatments, including one involving Canadian scientists, but their effect has not been fully studied.
The experimental vaccine designed by Canadian scientists and developed by Merck has been effective in its first widespread use in Congo.
The world's most serious Ebola outbreak, in West Africa (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia) in 2013-2016, killed more than 11,000 people.