The World Health Organization took the extraordinary step today of officially declaring the Ebola outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”  This is a bureaucratic designation that triggers a number of responses by the World Health Organization and its member states — it is also a very apt description of the current Ebola virus outbreak.

Here’s the latest data on the outbreak from the WHO

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As part of its declaration today, the WHO made a series of recommendations to states directly affected by ebola, states that neighbor countries affected by ebola, and the rest of the world.

These recommendations are fairly specific. For example, the WHO recommends that Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria “conduct exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings, for unexplained febrile illness consistent with potential Ebola infection.  The exit screening should consist of, at a minimum, a questionnaire, a temperature measurement and, if there is a fever, an  assessment of the risk that the fever is caused by EVD.  Any person with an illness consistent with EVD should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.”

And for the rest of the word:

States should provide travelers to Ebola affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimize those risks, and advice for managing a potential exposure.

States should be prepared to detect, investigate, and manage Ebola cases; this should include assured access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory for EVD and, where appropriate, the capacity to manage travelers originating from known Ebola-infected areas who  arrive at international airports or major land crossing points with unexplained febrile illness.

The general public should be provided with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and measures to reduce the risk of exposure.

States should be prepared to facilitate the evacuation and repatriation of nationals (e.g. health workers) who have been exposed to Ebola.

It’s worth stating that emergencies like this demonstrate the value of an entity like the WHO. The WHO exists to facilitate that cooperation and its mere existence greatly lowers the transaction costs associated with fighting a deadly virus across borders. If this ebola crisis peters out in the next few months it will be because the international community heeds these recommendations, and funds the international response that the WHO is coordinating.

Ebola will only be contained through international cooperation and collective action.  The WHO has laid out a strategy for the international community to follow (and fund). It’s now up to member states to implement this plan.

Hear directly from the WHO about why this particular outbreak has been so hard to contain. 

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