WHO Declares Ebola Outbreak No Longer International EmergencyMarch 31, 2016 in Ebola
On 29 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes an international emergency as officials voiced confidence that remaining isolated cases in the affected countries can be contained.
Speaking to journalists, WHO chief Margaret Chan stated that “the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” officially ending the emergency, which was first declared in August 2014. While the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has ended, officials have warned that flare-ups are likely to continue, with Chan stressing on Tuesday that all three previously affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – remain vulnerable to these flare-ups, including an ongoing cluster of cases reported in Guinea, which has left five people dead. Last week, health officials in Conakry reported that 961 people who may have come into contact with the victims in the southern region of the country were being monitored. Chan also warned against complacency towards the virus, which remains in “the ecosystem” in West Africa, adding that vigilance is crucial, including reacting quickly to new cases. She noted that “particularly important will be to ensure that communities can rapidly and fully engage in any future response, cases are quickly isolated and managed.”
The deadliest-ever outbreak of the tropical disease emerged in December 2013, and since then it has killed more than 11,300 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. The WHO consistently pushed back against such calls, with Chan again on Tuesday reiterating that “there should be no restrictions on travel and trade with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and that any such measures should be lifted immediately.” In the wake of the recent cluster of cases reported in southern Guinea, Liberia has closed its border with the country until further notice.
During the outbreak, the United Nation’s public health agency faced criticism over its initial response to the spread of Ebola, including accusations that it took far too long in order to publicise the threat level. In May 2015, the growing criticism forced the WHO to launch a sweeping shake-up of its emergency response systems. These efforts were seen this year, when the WHO was quick to sound the alarm in response to the rapid spread of the Zika virus.