WASHINGTON/KINSHASA. — President Donald Trump’s top health official said on Wednesday that the US and global partners will “take the steps necessary” to try to contain a new Ebola outbreak, asserting that the fight against infectious diseases is one of the administration’s top priorities for the World Health Organisation, the UN agency taking the lead.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar stopped short of predicting whether the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo that’s believed to have killed at least 30 people will be contained, but he praised WHO’s early response and vowed: “If it spreads, we will take further actions.”
Azar’s comments on Ebola came in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.
The response to the Ebola outbreak by WHO and its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has emerged as a major concern as ministers like Azar and his counterparts from other nations gather this week for the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The conclave lays out the agenda of the UN agency, which reaps hundreds of millions in US funding each year.
“I think it best not to make predictions when dealing with infectious disease,” Azar said cautiously, when asked if the outbreak will be contained. “We will take the steps necessary, we will act aggressively, forcefully, in partnership across the world community to do everything to contain it.”
“I think that what we’re seeing is that we’re taking it very seriously from Day One,” he said.
A day earlier, Azar told the Assembly the US was committing an additional $7 million for the Ebola response, raising its total to $8 million. The WHO has launched a “strategic response plan” for itself and partner organisations that seeks nearly $26 million to battle the outbreak, a figure that’s expected to rise.
“We’re also grateful for other countries that have stepped up to the plate. And we hope others will do the same,” Azar added.
Azar said the “first and foremost mission” that the US and the world community look to the WHO for its “central role around infectious disease and emergency preparedness and response”.
Although he stressed the need for international co-operation in fighting Ebola, Azar also underscored a Trump administration grievance: that other developed countries are “free riding off US investment and innovation” in medicines and health care.
As of yesterday, DRC’s health ministry reported 30 confirmed Ebola cases, including eight deaths, 14 probable ones and 14 suspected. This is DRC’s ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa but was effectively contained.
WHO began vaccinations this week and is using a “ring vaccination” approach, targeting the contacts of people infected or suspected of infection and then the contacts of those people. More than 600 contacts have been identified.
WHO also is accelerating efforts with nine countries neighbouring DRC to try to prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading there, saying the regional risk is high. — AP.