Emergencies

Health emergency highlights #96

In this issue:

  • Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
  • Epidemiological Alert: Hemorrhagic fever due to Arenavirus in Bolivia
  • Dengue increase likely during rainy season
  • WHO scales up activities in Burkina Faso in response to worsening humanitarian situation
  • WHO addressing leishmaniasis in high-risk areas of the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Republic of Korea strengthens countries’ capacities to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks
  • Vaccination against measles in Europe increases amid ongoing outbreaks
  • Elizabeth Hoff: Seven years of tireless work in war-torn Syria
  • Data tool improves Ebola surveillance, contact tracing and decision making in Uganda
  • Libya: Five medical staff dead in latest attack on health facilities in Tripoli
  • Thailand becomes first in region with WHO classified emergency medical team

Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on 17 July, following the discovery of the first confirmed case in Goma, a city of almost two million people on the border with Rwanda. “It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” said Dr. Tedros. “This is about mothers, fathers and children - too often entire families are stricken. At the heart of this are communities and individual tragedies,” said Dr. Tedros. “The PHEIC should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help."

Epidemiological Alert: Hemorrhagic fever due to Arenavirus in Bolivia

On 28 June 2019, the Ministry of Health of the Plurinational State of Bolivia received a report of three cases of hemorrhagic febrile syndrome of unknown etiology with suspected human-to-human transmission. As of 17 July 2019, there are a total of five cases, including three deaths. These are zoonoses produced by a virus belonging to the Arenavirus genus of the Arenaviridae family and are generally associated with human disease transmitted by rodents. Transmission in humans occurs mainly by inhalation of fine aerosol particles from droppings or saliva from rodents that contain the virus. Some Arenaviruses are associated with human-to-human transmission in community or healthcare settings.

WHO scales up activities in Burkina Faso in response to worsening humanitarian situation

WHO is scaling up operations in Burkina Faso in response to a growing humanitarian crisis, with over 200 000 displaced. WHO is mobilizing experts to strengthen interventions, including preventative and responsive vaccination campaigns, provision of health services, and increasing supplies of medicines and equipment. Violence and intercommunal conflicts have plagued the country since 2015. The first half of 2019 saw a sharp deterioration in the humanitarian situation. Of the displaced, 41% are children while 43.3% are women. Almost 25 000 Malians have also sought refuge in Burkina Faso.

Republic of Korea strengthens countries’ capacities to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks

WHO and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, through the Global Disease Eradication Fund (GDEF), have concluded an agreement for a major new US$ 12 million, three-year project in five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone – contributing to WHO’s goal of “One billion more people better protected from health emergencies.” Launched in 2017, the GDEF is funded through a US$1 airline passenger levy on each international flight from Korea. Korea is a key player in strengthening global health security, and this project focuses on strengthening IHR core capacities in the five countries to prevent, respond and recover from outbreaks and other health emergencies.

Elizabeth Hoff: Seven years of tireless work in war-torn Syria

When Elizabeth Hoff was appointed as WHO Representative in Syria in 2012, she didn’t expect that she would spend the next several years leading the emergency health response in one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian emergencies. Under Hoff’s direction, WHO has worked closely with national authorities to help avert the collapse of the health system. In spite of the devastating impact of the conflict, she remains hopeful. “The health system is slowly recovering. WHO has trained thousands of health care professionals to replace those who have left the country or have been killed over the past eight years,” she says. The next chapter of her career will take her to Libya, where she has been nominated WHO Representative. “I leave Syria with a heavy heart,” she says. “This has been the richest and most rewarding position I’ve ever held.”

Libya: Five medical staff dead in latest attack on health facilities in Tripoli

WHO strongly condemned the attack on Az Zawiyah Field Hospital in the south of Tripoli that killed five health workers killed and injured eight. The hospital was damaged and forced to suspend its services. This latest incident is one of dozens of confirmed attacks on health care in Libya in 2019. So far in 2019, WHO’s Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare has registered a total of 37 attacks on health facilities, 11 health workers killed, and 33 health workers and patients injured in the country. WHO has repeatedly condemned these incidents, which continue unabated.

Dengue increase likely during rainy season

Several Asian countries are experiencing unusually high numbers of dengue cases for this time of year. With the rainy season approaching, WHO is calling for action to minimize illness and deaths from dengue. Dengue is one of the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne diseases. Worldwide, the incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the past 50 years. Dengue is a major public health concern, and is potentially fatal. Of an estimated 2.5 billion people at risk for dengue globally, about 70% live in Asia Pacific countries. Climate conditions, unclean environments, unplanned urban settlements and rapid urbanization can lead to increased mosquito breeding.

WHO addressing leishmaniasis in high-risk areas of the Syrian Arab Republic

With financial support from the United States Agency for International Development, WHO and its partners implemented one of the first large-scale leishmaniasis prevention, control and treatment projects, reaching approximately 1.25 million people in north-western parts of the Syrian Arab Republic. The project has improved leishmaniasis care in primary health-care facilities, and strengthened preventative measures through the distribution of protective bed nets and spraying sandfly-preventing insecticides. Despite the urgency and potential for eradication, leishmaniasis control and treatment activities have long been underfunded.

Vaccination against measles in Europe increases amid ongoing outbreaks

The WHO European Region achieved 91% routine immunization coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination in 2018. This marks the second consecutive year in which the level of coverage has reached a record high in the Region, according to WHO–UNICEF estimates of national immunization coverage released last month. It is a welcome sign that an increasing number of parents are choosing vaccination as the safest way to protect their children from serious vaccine-preventable diseases. One of the drivers of increased vaccination may have been the resurgence of measles in the Region and globally over the past two years.

Data tool improves Ebola surveillance, contact tracing and decision making in Uganda

A new software tool, called Go.Data, has revolutionized data collection, collation and analysis for outbreak investigation and contact tracing. In the recent Ebola outbreak in western Uganda, the tool enabled frontline health workers to handle information management in real-time. Created by the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) group in close consultation with WHO Member states and partners, the Go.Data tool has strengthened follow-up of cases and contacts during outbreaks involving human-to-human transmission of disease. Uganda is the second country after Bangladesh to deploy the Go.Data tool in a disease outbreak situation.

Thailand becomes first in region with WHO classified emergency medical team

Thailand became the first in the WHO South-East Asia Region to get WHO classification for its emergency medical team (EMT). This classification makes the Thailand EMT the 26th team in the international roster of WHO internationally deployable medical teams. WHO staff and mentors from Australia and Spain guided and supported the Thailand EMT to meet global standards. Prone to natural disasters and at risk of climate change-related and other health hazards, the WHO South-East Asia Region has been investing in strengthening emergency response capacities as a flagship priority since 2014. Last year the Region passed a resolution to strengthen EMT capacities to further bolster emergency response.