Doctor who discovered Ebola praises decision to declare international emergency

The British doctor among the team that discovered Ebola in the 1970s has welcomed the World Health Organisation’s decision to declare the current crisis an international public health emergency.

The WHO advised the United Nations on Wednesday that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo risks spilling into neighbouring countries after the first case was confirmed in the city of Goma.

Goma is major regional crossroads on the Rwandan border with an international airport.

There have been more than 2,500 confirmed cases and over 1,600 deaths since last August – the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Until now, the WHO had declined to classify the spread of the disease a “public health emergency of international concern” – a move that often sparks far greater global attention and an increase in aid.

Microbiologist Peter Piot, one of the team that discovered the virus in 1976, said currently the epidemic showed “no sign” of coming under control.

Now director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr Piot said: “I hope that today’s decision serves as a wake-up call to drive high-level political action, improved coordination, and greater funding to support DRC in their efforts to stop this devastating epidemic.”

He added: “WHO has sounded the global alarm. Now, it is up to the world to act.”

On Tuesday, the UK’s Department for International Development announced a further £50 million in funding to aid the ongoing response.

DfID has so far been funding a vaccination programme, surveillance and the construction of treatment centres.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart said: “There are still a lot of things to be very, very worried about.

“This is not a moment for complacency – we are literally on a knife edge. We are going to have to put a lot more money into this on a no regrets basis.

“It is smart to spend money now, so we don’t have to spend much more later.”

He added: “To put it very bluntly the money is simply not coming through.”

Mr Stewart thanked the US for their efforts and called on the other G7 nations to do more.

Sarah Clayton-Fisher, the British Red Cross’s head of region for west and central Africa, said that lack of preparation in neighbouring countries had left them very vulnerable to the disease.

“A huge push and significant funding across the region are now required to contain this outbreak and bring it to an end,” she said.

Efforts to contain the outbreak have also been hampered by attacks on health workers and medical centres by armed groups, with two Congolese health professionals being killed over the weekend.