WHO 'encouraged' by improved Ebola situation in DRC

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Geneva (AFP)

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said it was "encouraged" by an improvement in the Ebola situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo but urged caution.

The WHO's Emergency Committee of experts will be meeting in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss whether the Ebola outbreak still constitutes a global health emergency.

The current Ebola epidemic, which was declared in August 2018, has killed more than 2,300 people in the east of the DR Congo.

"Although the world is now focused on coronavirus, we cannot and must not forget Ebola," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

"We're very encouraged by the current trend. There have only been three cases in the past week and no cases in the past three days," Tedros said.

But he added: "It's not over. Any single case could reignite the epidemic."

Tedros said he would be travelling to DR Congo on Thursday and meeting with President Felix Tshisekedi.

"We're still in full response mode," he said, pointing to the "very fragile" security situation in eastern parts of DR Congo, where several militia groups operate, and the need to strengthen the country's health system.

The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.

The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.

After months of pressure, WHO on July 17 last year declared it "public health emergency of international concern" -- a rarely used designation that is applied only to the gravest outbreaks.

This is the second worst outbreak of the disease since 2014 when it killed about 11,000 people -- mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Efforts to contain the current outbreak have been hindered by attacks on health workers and conflicts in the east, where several armed groups operate and the army is carrying out a military crackdown.