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WorldWhat 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world

07:40  18 july  2019
07:40  18 july  2019 Source:   9news.com.au

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What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most troubled countries on Earth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared an Ebola outbreak in a sub-Saharan African nation a global health emergency.

The declaration was made after the deadly virus spread to the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The declaration will allow for more health workers and resources to flow into the affected area in the hopes of containing the disease.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© Nine Ebola has spread to the city of Goma in the DRC.

But it's a decision that is well overdue, according to Sydney University health security expert Adam Kamradt-Scott.

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"It's the consensus of a fair proportion of the international health community that this should have been declared a public health emergency months ago," he told 9news.com.au.

"It is very much a long overdue decision, and the way they're justifying it now is that it has appeared in Goma."

Goma is a city the size of Brisbane, which sits on the Rwandan border and has an international airport.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP Locals in the city of Goma have their temperature checked after a case of Ebola there.

Previously the disease had been more or less contained within certain regions of the DRC, but its appearance in Goma has WHO officials fearing it could spread globally.

The outbreak is affecting the region of Beni most severely, but a pastor from the region travelled by bus to Goma before it became apparent he had the disease.

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What is Ebola?

Ebola is known as a viral haemorrhagic fever, Sydney University's Professor of Infection Prevention and Disease and Control Ramon Shaban said.

"The infection presents a lot like the flu. Headaches, muscle pains, sweating, fevers, a cough," Dr Shaban said.

"In a proportion of patients, they bleed from mucous membranes, from the mouth, from the eyes."

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© Boston University The Ebola virus under a microscope.

The mortality rate from Ebola is 50 per cent, meaning that one in two people who catch it, die from it.

"If you're not otherwise healthy, if you're malnourished, it makes the prognosis more difficult," Dr Shaban said.

"If the patient is otherwise well, their chances of recovery are otherwise good, but if they have asthma or heart disease it's more difficult."

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP Health workers in Beni, Congo DRC.

How do you get Ebola?

Ebola is a deadly disease, but in an Australian context, difficult to contract.

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The virus is spread via physical contact with bodily fluids.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP Graves are dug to bury Ebola victims in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo.

"You don't catch it from someone sneezing," Dr Shaban said.

"It's associated with high concentration of dense living in areas with lower standards of hygiene."

The outbreak is particularly hard to control in areas with particular burial practices.

Out of cultural tradition, family members in the DRC will handle the dead bodies of loved ones before burial.

As a consequence, family members are much more likely to contract the deadly disease.

Is Ebola curable?

There is no cure for Ebola but many patients can recover if they are given the right treatment soon enough.

And since the West African outbreak in 2014, a vaccine has been developed.

But supportive treatment methods help the chances of recovery, Dr Shaban said.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP There is a vaccine for Ebola, but inoculating a vast population against the disease is a difficult endeavour.

"The interventions are supportive, but because it's a virus, there's no antibiotics," he said.

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"The vaccine is one important measure, but given the locations of these outbreaks, access to these vaccines are limited."

What makes this outbreak so hard to contain?

In spite of its reputation as one of the poorest and more chaotic countries on Earth, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most experienced when it comes to Ebola.

"The DRC has had multiple Ebola outbreaks, and they have experience in managing these events," Dr Kamradt-Scott said.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP The Democratic Republic of Congo's history is marked with bloodshed and war.

What makes this outbreak much harder for the government to control is the presence of armed rebel groups in the region.

And there is a mistrust of government and foreign health workers in the region which hampers efforts to contain the virus.

"Some in the local communities don't believe that Ebola is real, or they believe the international health workers are spreading it," Dr Kamradt-Scott said.

"There's been a massive measles outbreak there, and many people are dying from other diseases.

"And people there are saying, 'Well, you didn't care about our children dying from these other diseases. You only care about this because it might affect you.'"

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP Hundreds of people have already died in the latest Ebola outbreak.

In recent months two health care workers have been murdered in the DRC, including a doctor for the WHO.

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Can Ebola end up in Australia?

There has never been a case of Ebola in Australia.

"The chances of it arriving here are low," Dr Shaban said.

"Nonetheless, with increased international travel, there are risks."

It is entirely possible for a person to board a plane from the DRC and land in Australia without realising they are carrying the virus.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world© AAP An Ebola virus virion. (AAP)

The chances of it spreading in Australia are miniscule, however.

What 'global emergency' Ebola outbreak means for the world
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"The types of public health interventions are straight-forward quarantine and isolation," Dr Kamradt-Scott said.

"If you're in a country where there's poor sanitation, that increases the risk of spreading infectious diseases."

And each state has a particular hospital that specialises in infectious diseases.

Which means if somebody in Australia were to fall ill with Ebola, they would be isolated so the virus could not spread.

Where is the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a long reputation as one of the most dysfunctional and violent countries on Earth.

Sitting in the centre of Africa, it is geographically one of the biggest nations on Earth, roughly the same size of Western Australia.

The former Belgian colony has more than 91 million people, but each person earns on average just $501 a year.

The country, formerly known as Zaire, has been rocked by disease, famine and civil war for much of its existence.

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