WHO: Ebola numbers underscore need for changes, funding

Ebola treatment cube in Beni
Ebola treatment cube in Beni

Courtesy of WHO

Ahead of another visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) outbreak region, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official said today that, as Ebola cases approach 3,000, there's a need to reflect on the numbers and change the direction of the outbreak.

At a media briefing in Geneva today, Mike Ryan, MD, the WHO's executive director of emergency programs, said transmission levels have been substantial but stable over the past 10 weeks, but he said there are worrying extensions of the disease and responders need donor funding to bring the outbreak under control.

Current challenges

Health officials are still seeing transmission in hot spots like Beni feed other areas, such as the recent cluster of cases in South Kivu province. "We're trying to look at how we can change that reality," Ryan said, noting that health officials are always working on ways to improve surveillance and the reach of vaccination efforts.

Though the vaccine is highly effective and two experimental Ebola treatments were found to be very promising, their impact is limited if patients aren't treated and if vaccinators can't reach contacts, either due to community resistance or insecurity, he said.

Ryan said another worry is the recently detected case in Pinga, a remote and insecure area northwest of Goma, involving a patient who doesn't seem to have any epidemiologic links to other Ebola cases.

One goal is to ensure that the case doesn't mark another spillover from an animal source, and genetic testing is under way to assess if the virus in Pinga is a separate introduction or related to other outbreak activity, Ryan noted. Vaccination has begun in Pinga, and the WHO is discussing clinical management in the area with Doctors Without Borders, he said.

Funding gap and new support

Ryan said the price tag for the public health part of the response is $278 million, and the WHO has asked for $120 million. So far the WHO has received $15.33 million, and officials believe $62 million are in the pipeline, based on donor pledges, resulting in a $60 million gap.

He said the WHO anticipated a new World Bank outbreak funding announcement.

In turn, shortly after the media briefing the World Bank announced $50 million to close the funding gap through the end of September. The amount includes $30 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility and $20 million from the World Bank.

The World Bank said the grants are part of a larger financial package worth about $300 million that it announced in July.

In a World Bank statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said, "WHO is very grateful for the World Bank's support, which fills a critical gap in our immediate needs for Ebola response efforts in DRC, and will enable the heroic workers on the frontlines of this fight to continue their lifesaving work." He added that the WHO eagerly anticipates further funding from other donors to help sustain response operations through the end of the year.

Eight newly confirmed cases

In other developments, the DRC reported 8 more cases today, boosting the outbreak total to 2,938, according to numbers reflected as of Aug 22 on the WHO's online Ebola dashboard.

Health officials are still investigating 413 suspected cases.

Eight more people died from Ebola, putting the fatality total at 1,969.

See also:

Aug 23 WHO media briefing audiofile

Aug 23 World Bank/WHO statement on financing for Ebola response

Aug 23 World Bank statement on pandemic emergency financing facility payout

WHO online dashboard

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