9 August 2014

World Health Organization calls Ebola outbreak a public health emergency of international concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned 8 August that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

As of 4 August 2014, there have been 1,711 cases (1,070 confirmed, 436 probable, 205 suspect) of Ebola virus disease (EVD), including 932 deaths. Between 5 and 6 August 2014, a total of 68 new cases of EVD (laboratory-confirmed, probable, and suspect cases) as well as 29 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

On 6 August, a Saudi man suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus passed away at 8.45am at a specialised hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The patient had been admitted to the intensive care unit late on 4 August after exhibiting symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fever following a business trip to Sierra Leone, Saudi's Ministry of Health said. The cause of the infection is still under investigation, and people who had been in contact with the man are being traced or monitored for symptoms of Ebola.

The WHO further provides the following recommendations for states which are currently not affected by EVD nor adjacent to a state which is affected:

  • There should be no general ban on international travel or trade; restrictions outlined in recommendations regarding the travel of EVD cases and contacts should be implemented.
  • States should provide travelers to Ebola affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimise those risks, and advice for managing a potential exposure. 
  • States should be prepared to detect, investigate, and manage Ebola cases; this should include assured access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory for EVD and, where appropriate, the capacity to manage travelers originating from known Ebola-infected areas who arrive at international airports or major land crossing points with unexplained febrile illness (fever). 
  • The general public should be provided with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and measures to reduce the risk of exposure. 
  • States should be prepared to facilitate the evacuation and repatriation of nationals (e.g. health workers) who have been exposed to Ebola. 
On 11 August, WHO will convene a panel of medical ethics experts to begin looking at the use of experimental treatments in the ongoing EVD outbreak in West Africa. At this time, there are no registered medicines or vaccines against this deadly virus, though several experimental options are currently under development.

Emirates has already suspended flights to Conakry in Guinea until further notice due to the Ebola outbreak, the company said on its website. "We apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers, however the safety of our passengers and crew is of the highest priority and will not be compromised," the company stated, asking affected customers to contact their travel agent or Emirates Call Centres for rebooking options, and visit the website for further updates.

Airlines flying to Sierra Leone include British Airways and Air France. British Airways has cancelled flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia till August 31. Air France also flies to Guinea, while Lufthansa flies to Nigeria.

Gulf Business has also reported that hajj visas are not being issued to pilgrims of the affected countries.

View the latest FAQ on EVD here.

Read about Singapore's preparedness activities here. Read about what India is doing about tracking nationals exposed to Ebola here.