The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This announcement comes shortly after a case of Ebola was confirmed in the city of Mbandaka, home to one million people. The WHO, which is deploying vaccines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had expressed concern about the disease reaching Mbandaka, which would make the outbreak, already believed to have killed 23 people, far harder to tackle.
“The arrival of Ebola in an urban area is very concerning and WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts of the confirmed case in the Mbandaka area,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti in a statement.
At the meeting Friday, an expert committee will decide whether to declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” which would trigger more international involvement, mobilizing research and resources, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.
Emergency Committees have been set up to advise on past outbreaks such as the 2016 Zika epidemic in Latin America and the huge West African Ebola outbreak that killed at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016.
The committee can advise WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on actions to be taken by the DRC and other countries to try to halt the international spread of disease without unduly interfering with trade or transport.
Tedros will host health ministers for the WHO’s annual assembly in Geneva next week and is likely to use it to coordinate an international response to the outbreak.
Unlike in the big West African outbreak, when it took months to convene an Emergency Committee, the WHO is moving fast to try to nip the DRC’s latest outbreak, its ninth, in the bud.
The Kinshasa government reported the outbreak on May 8, one day after two samples tested positive for the deadly virus, and within days the WHO was sending experts, preparing a helicopter “air bridge” to the site, and planning a vaccination campaign.
There have already been 44 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola, and 23 people have died.
The first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines to combat the outbreak arrived in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday, a Reuters witness who saw them being unloaded at the airport said.
The Health Ministry said a vaccination program would start on the weekend in the DRC’s northwestern Equateur province, where dozens of others are suspected to have been infected.