As Ebola Epidemic in the DRC Grows to the Second Largest in History, High Level Expert Panel Calls on the U.S. and World for Immediate Action to “Avoid Failure”

CONTACT: Johan Marulanda / jm3245@georgetown.edu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON–– The U.S. and international response to the growing Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo must be significantly bolder, says a high-level group of global health experts, sounding the alarm about insufficient resolve to halt the uncontrolled outbreak in an active war zone.

In a new consensus statement published November 29 in JAMA, more than two dozen top U.S. infectious disease, humanitarian and public health experts call for deployment of more human, financial, political and security resources soon to avoid a catastrophe. The panel was convened by Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

As of today, the outbreak has become second deadliest Ebola epidemic in history—surpassed only by the West Africa outbreak of 2014. New cases in the DRC have doubled in the past month and 705 of cases have an unknown origin.

Yet the U.S. removed all U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention personnel–– some of the world’s most experienced outbreak experts–– from eastern DRC due to grave security concerns about repeated insurgent attacks in the area and is not permitting further deployment of CDC or USAID staff.

The expert group called for the Trump Administration to shift to ramp up diplomatic and security efforts to reduce the violence and develop a plan to safely return public health personnel to North Kivu. They say the administration must consider the real danger to personnel.

 “It is in the US national interest to control outbreaks before they escalate into a crisis.  The cost of addressing this epidemic now is far less than if mass mobilization were required due to international spread of the virus,” write the authors of the JAMA Viewpoint. Writing on behalf of the expert group were Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, Faculty Director, O’Neill Institute; University Professor, Georgetown Law; Matthew M Kavanagh, PhD, Director, Global Health Governance and Policy, O’Neill Institute and Visiting Professor, Georgetown Law; and Elizabeth Cameron, PhD, Vice President, Global Biological Policy and Programs, NTI. (A complete list of all who signed the consensus statement is below).

The high-level panel’s consensus statement is entitled, “Ebola and War in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Avoiding Failure and Thinking Ahead” that provides eight recommendations, including:

  • The US should mobilize high-level political attention and resources through the UN Security Council;
  • The US and allies should develop a plan to deploy public health personnel to North Kivu;
  • US engagement should be closely coordinated with WHO and the DRC;
  • The US should increase funding the DRC to enhance local capacities to respond;
  • Longer term, the US should craft a transparent framework for responding to epidemic in conflict zones;
  • The US and partners should ensure sustainable funding for national action plans for health security, including through the Global Health Security Agenda; and
  • The UN Security Council should create a plan to safeguard public health in conflict zones.

Violence has led to severe disruptions to the outbreak response. At least 37 healthcare workers have been infected and 10 have died; more than 400 people have died from Ebola in DRC.  Gostin said, “the DRC epidemic is fueled by political violence, public distrust, and mass migration. Without a major surge, the Ebola response could collapse. We are now facing a ‘new abnormal,’ fighting dangerous outbreaks in war-torn regions. We must plan accordingly.”

In addition to Gostin, Kavanagh, and Cameron, the statement was signed by:  

Sharon Abramowitz, Rutgers University
Deus Bazira, University of Maryland
Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Thomas Bollyky, Council on Foreign Relations
Lauren Carruth, American University
Victor Dzau, National Academy of Medicine
Katie Gottschalk, Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health
Charles Holmes, Georgetown University
Bonnie Jenkins, Brookings Institution
Rebecca Katz, Georgetown University
Jeremy Konyndyk, Center for Global Development
James Lawler, University of Nebraska
Nicole Lurie, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives
Emily Mendenhall, Georgetown University
John Monahan, Georgetown University
Jennifer Nuzzo, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Dawn O’Connell, US Office for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
Loyce Pace, Global Health Council
Carolyn Reynolds, PATH
Leonard Rubenstein, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Mesfin Teklu Tessema, International Rescue Committee
Emira Woods, Institute for Policy Studies

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy.  Celebrating its 10th year in 2017, its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure.  The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.

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