WHO: Ebola an international health emergency

Volunteers lower a corpse, which is prepared with safe burial practices to ensure it does not pose a health risk to others and stop the chain of person-to-person transmission of Ebola, into a grave in Kailahun.

Volunteers lower a corpse, which is prepared with safe burial practices to ensure it does not pose a health risk to others and stop the chain of person-to-person transmission of Ebola, into a grave in Kailahun.

The Ebola epidemic sweeping across western Africa, where it has already killed nearly 1,000 people, was declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization on Friday.

The U.N. health body said its emergency committee, which includes global medical and policy experts, had declared the deadliest known outbreak of the Ebola virus a “public health emergency of international concern.”

WHO declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.

The WHO chief, Dr. Margaret Chan, said the announcement is “a clear call for international solidarity” but acknowledged that many countries would probably not have any Ebola cases, The Associated Press reported.

“Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own,” Chan said at a news conference in Geneva. “I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible.”

The agency had convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the ongoing epidemic.

The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50 percent.

The impact of the WHO declaration is unclear; the declaration about polio doesn’t yet seem to have slowed the spread of virus. During a WHO meeting last week to reconsider the status of polio, experts noted countries hadn’t yet fully applied the recommendations made in May, there have been more instances of international spread and that outbreaks have worsened in Pakistan and Cameroon.

 
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