From today’s regular press briefing from the United Nations Office In Geneva (UNOG), we get an update that touches on a number of concerns, including the impact of air traffic disruptions and border closings for the Ebola-affected nations, and the recent detection of Ebola in the DRC.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that an update in the form of a situation report was expected to be delivered later in the day. Regarding WHO teams, Mr. Jasarevic reported that Dr. Kenji Fukuda was now back from Freetown to Monrovia in Liberia while Dr. David Nabarro was travelling to Conakry. Several press releases had been issued on their activities.
Responding to a question, Mr. Jasarevic confirmed that a second meeting on experimental treatment would indeed take place on 4-5 September and the WHO was planning a virtual press briefing and a note for journalists after the conference.
Answering another question on air traffic disruptions that occurred in the affected countries and ensuing supply shortages, Mr. Jasarevic responded that the WHO was looking at this issue very closely. He reiterated that cancellation of flights and closure of borders might have not only economic impacts on the country but also an adverse effect on WHO operations. Mr Jasarevic said that the WHO had regular discussions with airlines to reassure them that all the measures had been taken in affected countries in order to have in place exit screenings. The risk of Ebola infection through air travel was very low.
Asked about the impact of this supply shortage on the spread of Ebola virus in Western Africa, he said that the WHO was trying to find alternative ways and to work with UN humanitarian airlines services in case they did not find another solution. In a response to a question about WHO staff members who had been delayed by flight disruptions while trying to travel to one of the affected countries, Mr. Jasarevic said that the WHO staff had fortunately managed to get in.
On the issue of suspected cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Jasarevic said that the WHO had been notified by the Ministry of Health of positive tests of two samples for Ebola in the province of Equator. Further tests were being currently conducted to identify the strain. WHO was working with several partners in the DRC to set up a rapid response. There had been 24 unexplained cases of hemorragic fever, 13 of which had resulted in deaths. It appeared to be an unrelated indigenous strain of Ebola but this still needed to be confirmed.
Regarding the situation of a colleague affected with the virus, Mr. Jasarevic said that he was still in Sierra Leone while WHO organized his repatriation, although the final destination had not yet been decided. Asked whether the WHO had reinforced its presence with the increasing number of deaths in the four affected countries , Mr. Jasarevic answered that the WHO currently had deployed 200 people in the field including WHO staff and external specialists. He highlighted that more than 400 people had been deployed, many of them several times, since the beginning of the epidemic outbreak.