The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced on Wednesday after the virus spread this week to a city of two million people, the AP reports. A WHO expert committee had declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, which other experts say has long met the conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone. This week the first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border with an international airport. Health experts have feared this scenario for months.
A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid; WHO has said tens of millions of dollars are needed to help contain this outbreak, per the AP. Such a declaration also brings concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures. While the risk of regional spread remains high the risk outside the region remains low, says WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "The (international emergency) should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help," he says. This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic, and polio eradication.
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