An emergency committee is meeting to decide whether the Ebola outbreak now constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Here is how WHO defines such an event: IHR Procedures concerning public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC).
Some serious public health events that endanger international public health may be determined under the Regulations to be public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC). The term Public Health Emergency of International Concern is defined in the IHR (2005) as “an extraordinary event which is determined, as provided in these Regulations:
i. to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease; and
ii. to potentially require a coordinated international response”. This definition implies 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.
The responsibility of determining whether an event is within this category lies with the WHO Director-General and requires the convening of a committee of experts – the IHR Emergency Committee. This committee advises the Director General on the recommended measures to be promulgated on an emergency basis, known as temporary recommendations.
Temporary recommendations include health measures to be implemented by the State Party experiencing the PHEIC, or by other States Parties, to prevent or reduce the international spread of disease and avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic.
The Emergency Committee also gives advice on the determination of the event as a PHEIC in circumstances where there is inconsistency in the assessment of the event between the Director-General and the affected country/countries.
The Emergency Committee continues to provide advice to the Director-General throughout the duration of the PHEIC, including any necessary changes to the recommended measures and on the determination of PHEIC termination.
WHO maintains an IHR roster of experts and the members of an IHR Emergency Committee are selected from this roster and/or WHO expert advisory panels and committees. At least one member of the Emergency Committee should be an expert nominated by a State Party within whose territory the event arises.
Given the spread of Ebola in the last two or three weeks, we do indeed appear to be in a PHEIC, and I'll be surprised if the committee decides otherwise.