The World Health Organisation (WHO), said on Friday in Geneva that the Ebola epidemic is an “extraordinary event” and now constitutes an international health risk.
WHO said the possible consequences of a further international spread of the outbreak, which has killed almost 1,000 people in four West African countries, were “particularly serious” in view of the virulence of the virus.
“A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,” the WHO said in a statement after a two-day meeting of its emergency committee on Ebola.
The declaration of an international emergency will have the effect of raising the level of vigilance on the virus.
“The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it,” the WHO’s Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters after a briefing from the WHO’s Geneva headquarters.
“The declaration will galvanise the attention of leaders of all countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the ministries of health alone,” Chan said.
The agency said that while all countries with Ebola transmission, namely Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone should declare a national emergency, there should be no general ban on international travel or trade.
The current outbreak, in which at least 1,711 people have so far been infected, of whom 932 have died, is the most severe in the almost 40 years since Ebola was identified in humans.
The WHO said this was partly because of the weakness of the health systems in the countries currently affected, which lacked human, financial and material resources.
It also said inexperience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks and misconceptions of the disease, including how it is transmitted, “continue to be a major challenge in some communities”.