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WHO Director-General briefs media on outcome of Ebola Emergency Committee

Remarks at a media briefing following the Ninth meeting of the Emergency Committee concerning Ebola. Geneva, Switzerland
29 March 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us.

The ninth meeting of the Emergency Committee on Ebola, convened today under the International Health Regulations, has advised me that the Ebola situation in West Africa no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Although the response to a cluster of new Ebola cases and deaths is being reported in Guinea, that flare-up currently involves a single chain of transmission. It is the Committee's view that the countries have the capacities and capabilities to manage such flares.

To date, nearly 1000 contacts related to this flare-up have been identified, of whom 142 are considered at high risk of exposure.

In making its assessment, the Committee reviewed data on this new cluster of cases together with responses to earlier Ebola flare-ups that occurred after the original chains of transmission were interrupted in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The response to each and every one of these flares was immediate and very effectively contained.

Chains of transmission were tracked, hundreds of contacts were traced and monitored, and the small clusters of cases were rapidly contained.

As the experts noted during the meeting today, Ebola response capacity in West Africa is strong. The three countries now have the world’s largest pool of expertise in responding to Ebola.

WHO anticipated further flare-ups. We have kept hundreds of our own experienced staff in the three countries, ready to contribute to the kind of emergency response needed to quickly interrupt transmission chains.

Our tools are sharper. For the first time in any Ebola outbreak, response teams have access to vaccination as a powerful containment tool.

In addition, with the number of cases now much smaller, our laboratory partners are able to sequence viruses from individual patients. Sequence data on individual viruses back up the epidemiological detective work needed to define the source of transmission chains with great precision.

Data from investigations of recent flare-ups indicate that sexual transmission of the virus can occur over a year after full recovery of a male patient.

The Emergency Committee supported the WHO view that further small clusters of cases can be expected.

The Committee balanced this likelihood against its assessment that existing national and international response capacity is sufficient to contain new clusters of cases quickly. We can congratulate the three countries for maintaining vigilance and showing no signs of complacency during flare-ups.

The experts further concluded that the likelihood of international spread by air travel is extremely low.

I have accepted the Committee’s advice.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. However a high level of vigilance and response capacity must be maintained to ensure the ability of the countries to prevent Ebola infections and to rapidly detect and respond to flare-ups in the future.

These countries continue to require the full support of international community.

Professor Steffen will outline in his statement some specific advice from the Committee to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the international community.

I thank the Committee for its diligence and its sound advice over the 20 months since its first meeting.

I reserve the opportunity to reconvene them in the future as needed to assess progress on Ebola prevention, detection and response in this region.

I also want to recognize the tremendous leadership in these three countries, the efforts of their people, and the dedication of the international response that have brought the International Public Health Emergency of International Concern to an end.

Thank you.