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IATA and DFAT speak out on latest killer disease outbreak

July 29, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Australia and IATA have issued separate statements after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) over the latest outbreak of the lethal Ebola virus.

The outbreak of the infectious fatal disease is centred in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The death rate in the latest outbreak is slightly under 70%.

Numbers last week were:

  • Total cases: 2597
  • Confirmed cases: 2503
  • Probable cases: 94
  • Deaths: 1746
  • Confirmed cases: 1652
  • Probable cases: 94

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it was “coordinating closely with the WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with respect to potential implications for air connectivity”.

IATA was keen to point out that WHO’s current risk assessment for travel and transport does not recommend any travel restrictions or the closure of borders at points of entry.

Treating Ebola

WHO’s Emergency Committee said:

  • No country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel and trade. Such measures are usually implemented out of fear and have no basis in science. They push the movement of people and goods to informal border crossings that are not monitored, thus increasing the chances of the spread of disease. Most critically, these restrictions can also compromise local economies and negatively affect response operations from a security and logistics perspective.
  • National authorities should work with airlines and other transport and tourism industries to ensure that they do not exceed WHO’s advice on international traffic.
  • The Committee does not consider entry screening at airports or other ports of entry outside the region to be necessary.

Any traveller developing symptoms of Ebola within three weeks of returning from an affected region is advised to seek medical attention just as soon as they can.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says Ebola symptoms include high fever, muscle pain and weakness, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhoea and in some cases, internal and external bleeding.

The outbreak in DR Congo has killed more than 1600 people and has now spread to the city of Goma, home to more than a million.

The PHEIC emergency provision is WHO’s highest level of alarm and has been used only four times previously. This includes the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016, killing more than 11,000 people.

Medical officer working in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Experimental vaccines exist but there is difficulty administering them as medical aid workers are often attacked. Since January, 198 attacks have been launched against healthcare workers or Ebola treatment facilities leading to seven deaths and 58 injuries.

Experts warn that Ebola is by no means a solely African problem. International travel and ongoing migration from Africa to Europe, as well as the long incubation period of the Ebola virus (between two and 21 days) means technically that the disease can be virtually anywhere within a day or two. In reality, however, few of the victims are likely to travel far.

DFAT reviewed its travel advice for the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Thursday and included new information on Ebola. DFAT hasn’t changed the advisory level: “reconsider your need to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo overall”. Higher levels apply in some parts of the country.

Written by Peter Needham

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