Via CIDRAP, Lisa Schnirring writes: Ebola outbreak prompts emergency talks, airlift plan. Excerpt:
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, announced today that she will convene an emergency committee next week to consider if West Africa's Ebola outbreak is an international health emergency, as US health officials prepared to airlift two sick American aid workers out of Liberia.
Chan made the comments today in Conakry, Guinea, in a speech during a meeting with the leaders the countries experiencing the outbreak, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. She is in Guinea's capital to launch a stepped-up $100 million international response plan to manage the health crisis that has been deepening in the region and posing a serious threat to neighboring countries.
Committee to consider emergency declaration
According to the WHO, the emergency committee will meet Aug 6 and Aug 7, and officials will announce the group's assessment of the West Africa Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak afterward in a media briefing on Aug 7.
WHO emergency committees are part of the International Health Regulations, passed by the World Health Assembly in 2005 in the wake of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak. Emergency committees have made public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) designations twice before: when the 2009 H1N1 virus started sweeping the globe and in early May for polio.
In mid May, in the midst of a sharp rise in Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infections, a WHO emergency committee held off on declaring a PHEIC. Declaration of a PHEIC comes with a set of temporary recommendations for countries to implement to reduce the international spread of the disease.
During her speech today, Chan addressed the difficult challenges health officials face, such as large numbers of infected health workers and community resistance to steps needed to contain the outbreak, but she added that bringing it under control is possible.
"Experiences in Africa over nearly four decades tell us clearly that, when well managed, an Ebola outbreak can be stopped," she said.
Medical evacuation under way
In other developments, the US State Department announced today that it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are facilitating the medical evacuation of two US citizens infected by the virus in West Africa.
The State Department didn't name the patients for privacy reasons, but aid groups working in Liberia said earlier this week that two of their American medical workers were sick with EVD infections: Kent Brantly, MD, and Nancy Writebol, who were working at a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia's capital.
Samaritan's Purse, one of the aid organizations that operate the treatment center, said Brantly and Writebol remain in serious condition. Franklin Graham, the group's president, said in a statement that medical evacuation plans are under way to bring Brantly and Writebol back to the United States, and that the mission could be completed within the week.