In light of the just concluded WHO IHR Emergency Committee meeting, the Global Health community has gone ballistic on the decision of the committee to not declare the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), but the global health community’s cry is far from target. PHEIC does not address the local realities surrounding this outbreak.
Let’s take a closer look at the scenario, the declaration of PHEIC will mean the massive deployment of Global Health Resources to the axis involved in this outbreak. However, the transmission of Ebola in DRC is fueled not by the virulence of the Ebola virus, in fact with the availability of vaccines and the way it is being administered for prevention, the transmission of Ebola should not be as bad as it was in 2014.
Apparently, the Ebola vaccine is not enough. The insecurity situation which creates massive gaps in response, surveillance, as well as management of cases identified, is the new public health challenge.
In a similar case, Nigeria recorded gaps in its polio immunization campaign due to the Boko Haram insurgency, dark spots in coverage existed in its North East and in 2016 new cases were found leading to a major setback for polio eradication in the country. To address this, military intervention was added for deeper action.
For DRC, PHEIC declaration may or may not work; but as a public health instrument, it will not address the root cause of this outbreak. In fact, using the assumptions that lead towards such declaration, global health players will not respond in good time. It is this case we advocate strongly that what WILL work is DELIBERATE PEACE MISSION and MILITARY-BACKED OUTBREAK RESPONSE STRATEGY.
This region is at war and it is not the expertise of any public health expert in the world to unilaterally battle militant guerrilla tactics of some local insurgents.
We also want to put on record our position on issues of insecurity across Africa. What is required for a lasting solution to some of the pockets of disease outbreaks on the continent is an Africa that is awake to its realities. What is going on in the DRC right now is being mirrored in most other African countries. Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan among others are all battling one form of conflict or the other. These are situations that are immune to instruments such as PHEIC and will continue to frustrate global health mechanism based on current assumptions.
We urge that we treat this DRC outbreak of Ebola as one of the results of the ongoing conflict in the country. If Africa and rest of the world, therefore, desire an end to it, we should activate what brings peace, ends conflicts and secures definitive public health response to disease outbreaks.
Dr Lawal Bakare
Chief Executive Officer
EpidAlert Informative Initiative