October 17, 2018

Karen Teber / km463@georgetown.edu

WASHINGTON (Oct. 17, 2018) – Today, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the recommendation of an Emergency Committee, declined to declare the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

Public health and law expert Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown, commended WHO for acting proactively but that it missed a major opportunity:

“The Emergency Committee convened under the International Health Regulations (IHR) should have declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) due to the high level of risk of disease spread to neighboring countries. A PHEIC declaration would have mobilized resources for neighboring countries and garnered the attention of political leaders and the United Nations. The WHO also should have appointed Emergency Committee members with strong expertise in diplomacy, conflict resolution and peacekeeping.

“In 2014, the Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing the ‘unprecedented extent’ of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, deploying UN volunteers to bring supplies and expertise. But this is the first time the WHO has formally asked the United Nations Security Council to address the worsening security situation in a major outbreak. The UNSC should adopt a resolution giving United Nations and African Union peacekeepers the express mission and mandate to protect front-line workers and enable a robust public health response including contact tracing and a systematic vaccination campaign. The MONUSCO peacekeeping mission must be trained and beefed up to help health care workers bring the outbreak under control.

“We know now that good public health practices are simply not enough to prevent spread of novel diseases when the outbreak is in an active conflict zone like the DRC. The WHO has neither the mandate nor the expertise to deal with security threats. The United Nations needs to train and deploy peacekeepers in support of a public health mission. Without security protection, conflicts and public distrust will propel this Ebola outbreak, and threaten public health responses in the future.

“The global health world, including the WHO, cannot conduct business as usual in countries that are unstable and experiencing mass violence. The United Nations Security Council should do more than adopt a resolution. It will be vital for the Council to convene a standing health emergencies committee charged with working alongside the WHO and other health and humanitarian agencies to safeguard security on the ground. The health and security of the Congo, the region, and the world is at stake.”

To arrange an interview with Gostin, please contact him at gostin@law.georgetown.edu.

Click here for a list of Georgetown subject matter experts who can provide comment and context on Ebola the areas of infectious disease (clinical and molecular biology), global health security, vaccine development and international health regulations.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. 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.