Global Health Security, Law Experts Express Relief After WHO Declares DRC Ebola Outbreak a PHEIC

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Karen Teber


WASHINGTON (July 17, 2019) – Today, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the recommendation of the Emergency Committee, declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

This 4th meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee meeting on the DRC Ebola outbreak was prompted by a man with Ebola who traveled undetected to Goma, a city of about a million people and a transportation hub perched on the Rwandan border.  He has since died.

Georgetown University global health security experts Rebecca Katz, PhD, MPH, and Julie Fischer, PhD, and global health legal and policy expert Alexandra Phelan, SJD, LLM, LLB,  express relief about the decision:

Katz says:

“Almost all international legal and policy experts agree that the conditions for declaring a PHEIC were met long ago, so we are delighted to see that the Emergency Committee and the Director General have finally come to this decision.  Not only do we believe that the decision will help bring additional needed attention to this ongoing crisis, but also move nations in the regions to take all necessary steps to address the potential spread of the disease. This is a positive development for global governance of disease and the International Health Regulations.”

Fischer says:

“Health care workers continue to become infected well into this outbreak, amidst acts of violence that threaten their safety and their lives. This declaration should urge countries to mobilize the resources needed to protect workers and to employ proven methods to prevent infections for health workers and the community, including adequate personal protective equipment for health and lab workers, rapid diagnostic testing to identify cases, and safe burials.”

Phelan says:

“Today’s decision is the right call: the conditions for declaring a PHEIC under international law have been satisfied for many months. This declaration is an urgent call to countries around the world that their financial support is desperately needed to prevent the spread of Ebola and save lives. Countries must also provide technical and political support, including complying with the Director-General’s temporary recommendations to not to impose any international travel or trade restrictions. Travel restrictions are counterproductive, both immediately and for future outbreaks, and increase the risk of cross-border spread.”

Katz is a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University. Her research is focused on global health security, public health preparedness and health diplomacy. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaKatz5

Fischer is director of Georgetown’s Elizabeth R. Griffin Program that promotes evidence-based biosafety and biosecurity practices to protect the health and safety of researchers as well as the workers on the front lines of disease detection. Follow her on Twitter @Julie_E_Fischer.

Phelan is a faculty member of Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law. She works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases, with a particular focus on emerging and reemerging infectious disease outbreaks and international law. She has worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and Gavi. Follow her on Twitter at @AlexandraPhelan.

To arrange an interview with Katz, Fischer or Phelan please contact Karen Teber at

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

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic health and science center with a four-part mission of research, teaching, service and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.  Connect with GUMC on Facebook (, Twitter (@gumedcenter).