Partners In Health co-founder and chief strategist Dr. Paul Farmer told The Washington Post on Thursday that the international Ebola response in Congo must focus on caring for sick patients, not just containing the outbreak, following the WHO’s declaration of a global health emergency earlier this week.
“Every time that we say ‘a public health emergency,’ it should mean it’s a clinical emergency,” Farmer told the Post, adding that the international response must include resources to allow that, “anybody who gets sick is promptly diagnosed and cared for.”
Nearly 1,700 people have died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the outbreak began nearly a year ago. The virus has infected more than 2,500.
The WHO declared the situation a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC, on Wednesday, amid growing concerns that the outbreak could spread into neighboring countries including South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. The Post reported that a catalyst for the PHEIC decision may have been a recent case of Ebola in Goma, capital of the DRC’s conflict-torn North Kivu province and a heavily trafficked transport hub on the Rwandan border, with a population of more than 1 million.
PIH has worked in Rwanda since 2005, known locally as Inshuti Mu Buzima. PIH staff there are ramping up preparations for potential Ebola response, with trainings led by clinicians including Dr. Marta Lado, an infectious disease specialist, chief medical officer for PIH in Sierra Leone, and a leader of the response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014.
PIH staff in northern Rwanda’s Burera District have received Ebola vaccinations, because of the region’s proximity to the DRC and Uganda.
Farmer also told the Post that the international response must prioritize caring for the sick because, the article paraphrased, “too often in the past…response efforts have elevated containing the outbreak over treating those affected.”