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DR Congo Ebola outbreak 'health emergency' of international concern - WHO

Those included the H1N1, or swine flu, the pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the surge of the Zika virus in 2016.

FILE: In this file photo taken on 12 December 2018 a member of the medical staff of the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) puts on her Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during a weekly rehearsal at the Bwera General Hospital in Bwera bordering with DRC, western Uganda. Picture: AFP

GENEVA - The World Health Organisation on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a "public health emergency of international concern," a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics.

"It is time for the world to take notice," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, as he accepted the advice of his advisory board to invoke the emergency provision (PHEIC), only used by the UN health agency four times previously.

Those included the H1N1, or swine flu, the pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016 and the surge of the Zika virus in 2016.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it "welcomed" the decision.

"While it does not change the reality on the ground for victims or partners engaged in the response, we hope it will bring the international attention that this crisis deserves," the IFRC said in a statement.

The WHO's international health regulations, drafted in 2005, say that the international emergency label should apply to a situation that is "serious, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected State's national border, and may require immediate international action".

More than 1,600 people have died from Ebola since 1 August, when the haemorrhagic virus erupted in DR Congo's North Kivu and spread to neighbouring Ituri.