The world Health Organisation announced an emergency committee would meet on June 14th to determine whether to upgrade its assessment of the situation to a public health emergency of international concern.
WHO, in October and again in April, held off declaring the DRC epidemic an emergency of international concern, because the outbreak was contained to one part of DRC.
For the committee to make the emergency call, it must determine that the epidemic “carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border and may require immediate international action”.
If such a declaration is made on Friday, it will represent a major shift in mobilization against the disease.
Experts are worried that the current Ebola epidemic which began in August last year in eastern Congo and has already infected at least 2,062 people, killing 1,390 of them.
“This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon,” said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity which is involved in fighting Ebola.
“We can expect and should plan for more cases in DRC and neighbouring countries,” he said, adding: “There are now more deaths than any other Ebola outbreak in history, bar the West Africa Epidemic of 2013-16, and there can be no doubt that the situation could escalate towards those terrible levels.”
The Red Cross said it was scaling up efforts to contain the spread of the virus since it was detected in Uganda.
“This is a worrying development, but we have been preparing for this day for months now,” Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, said in a statement Wednesday.
Experts noted that Uganda, which has been on high alert for possible spread of Ebola and has already vaccinated many front-line health workers, is relatively well prepared and should be able to limit the virus’ spread.
“The current cases in Uganda will be quickly contained but the failure to stop the current Ebola epidemic in DRC is simply tragic,” said Ian Jones, professor of virology at Britain’s Reading University.
Neighboring Uganda has suffered regular outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg over the years, both high-fatality viral hemorrhagic fevers. Health facilities to treat the diseases are relatively robust.