Kinshasa (AFP)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday raised the outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever to the rank of "global health emergency", three days after the appearance of a first case in a border town in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the international community to "redouble efforts": "We need to work together with the DRC to end this epidemic and build a better health system" .

His statement comes as the epidemic has already killed 1,668 people in remote and conflict-ridden areas of North Kivu in nearly a year since August 1.

This is the fourth time that WHO has activated its international health emergency procedure since 2009 - including once in 2014 for the great Ebola outbreak that killed 11,000 people in West Africa.

This procedure means that the situation is "grave, sudden, unusual or unexpected", with health consequences "beyond the national borders of the affected State", which "may require immediate international action", according to the criteria of the International Health Regulations.

- Electro-shock -

The case diagnosed in Goma Sunday afternoon provoked a new electro-shock among the "actors" of the response to Ebola, confronted for a year to many challenges (resistance of part of the population, armed violence).

With a population of one to two million people on the border with Rwanda and neighboring Uganda, Goma is a crossroads in this region that has been in crisis for 25 years. The city has air links with Uganda, Ethiopia and Kinshasa.

The patient from Goma has since died but now questions the number of contacts he may have had from the moment he developed the first symptoms. Most have been vaccinated, say the health authorities.

"The risk of Ebola spreading in the region remains high, but it remains low outside," said Dr. Tedros.

The health emergency was envisioned in June when the epidemic overflowed into neighboring Uganda, with the deaths of two patients.

On Wednesday night, Ugandan authorities are looking for people who have been in contact with a confirmed case of Ebola from the DRC.

"Died since last Monday in a specialized center in Beni, this patient had manifested symptoms of Ebola since his stay in Kasese, district of Uganda border with the DRC," said a statement from the Ugandan authorities and the WHO.

The virus is transmitted to humans through contact with either infected animals (usually dehorning, cooking, or eating) or with biological fluids from infected persons.

- Not an excuse -

WHO said the global health emergency should not be an "excuse to impose trade and travel restrictions that would negatively impact the (health) response and the lives of the population in the region." said Professor Robert Steffen, head of the WHO Emergency Committee.

"We must change the method" in the response to Ebola, responded Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in a statement.

"In a context where the search for contact cases is not totally effective and all affected people are not reached, a broader approach is essential for the prevention of the epidemic," says MSF.

MSF announced the withdrawal of its teams in early March from Beni and Butembo, the main outbreaks of the epidemic, after armed attacks against Ebola Treatment Centers (ETCs).

The experts gathered in Geneva since Wednesday noon also expressed their "disappointment about the delays in funding" the aid.

In particular, the Committee recognized that there was a shortage of vaccines deemed effective in countering the epidemic. He recommended that WHO request an effort from States and laboratories.

This is the big difference from the previous outbreaks: 163,533 people have been vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health, which specifies each day that "the only vaccine to be used in this epidemic is the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, manufactured by the group Merck pharmaceutical ".

The current epidemic is the tenth since 1976 in the DRC and the second worst in the history of Ebola, following the epidemic that hit West Africa in 2014-2016.

© 2019 AFP