July 17 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a public health emergency of international concern.
WHO leaders made the announcement during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, citing a geographical expansion of the virus, which has mostly been centered in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the DRC.
The announcement came the same day the Uganda Ministry of Health and WHO said a woman traveled from the DRC to Uganda to trade at a market before returning to the DRC, where she died of Ebola. Health officials also revealed the first case of the virus in the city of Goma, which is situated on the border with Rwanda.
"Although there is no evidence yet of local Ebola transmission in either Goma, DRC or Uganda, these two events represent a concerning geographical expansion of the virus," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said Wednesday.
The last time WHO declared a PHEIC for the Ebola virus was during an outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people between 2013 and 2016. The declaration indicates there's a potential spread of the disease to other countries and prepares the international community for a coordinated response.
Adhanom said WHO is not placing travel restrictions on the region because doing so might encourage travelers to use unmonitored border crossings, "increasing the potential for the spread of disease." Health officials have conducted more than 75 million Ebola screenings at border crossings and other checkpoints since the outbreak, he added.
"Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of DRC, not impose punitive and counterproductive restrictions that will only serve to isolate DRC," Adhanom said.
DRC health officials said Ebola had killed 1,676 people as of Tuesday, including eight new deaths in the past week. There have been 2,512 total cases, including 11 new confirmed cases in the past week.