Dual Ebola outbreaks spark rapid response, Australian NGOs get caught in Facebook’s crossfire, and the U.S. government commits $200 million to the World Health Organization. This week in development:
Guinea declared a new outbreak of Ebola on Sunday, after attendees at the funeral of a nurse who died at a health facility in late January developed Ebola-like symptoms. At least eight confirmed and probable cases have been reported, with six deaths. Separately, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has confirmed four cases in its North Kivu Province, where the country’s second-largest Ebola outbreak ended in June last year.
Guinea’s outbreak is the first in West Africa since a regional Ebola epidemic five years ago killed over 11,000 people. Guinea’s new Ebola cases are in the Nzérékoré region — a border area where the previous outbreak emerged — and the World Health Organization has alerted neighboring countries to rapidly deploy surveillance.
DRC has launched an Ebola vaccination campaign, drawing on an 8,000-dose stockpile maintained since the last outbreak. There is a global stockpile of 500,000 Ebola vaccine doses, made available through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. With vaccine manufacturers focused on COVID-19, there are concerns about how quickly they would be able to produce more Ebola vaccines in the event of a more widespread outbreak.
“Our collective, quick action is crucial to averting an uncontrolled spread of Ebola amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has already pushed health workers and health facilities to the edge,” Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for Africa at WHO, said Thursday.
A legal dispute between Facebook and the Australian government has resulted in the social media giant removing shared news content from its platform in the country — a sudden move that has affected government health authorities, the Bureau of Meteorology, and nonprofits and NGOs. Organizations including the Australian Council for International Development, CBM Australia, The Crawford Fund, Oxfam Australia, Save the Children Australia, WWF Australia, and Médecins Sans Frontières Australia saw their pages stripped of content.
Facebook’s action — which some have described as the “nuclear option” — stems from the Australian government’s effort to enforce revenue-sharing arrangements between social media companies and the news organizations whose content they disseminate online. Due to the difficulty of defining “news content,” a broader range of organizations saw their posts suddenly taken down.
“It’s really devastating to be cut off from our 160,000 supporters who follow the Save the Children Australia Facebook page,” said Paul Ronalds, CEO at Save the Children Australia.
The episode has prompted some experts to ask whether Facebook offers the best platform for organizations to post content and engage with their supporters and partners, as the social media company has increasingly come to dominate marketing strategies.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that the United States "intends to pay over 200 million [dollars] in assessed and current obligations" to the World Health Organization. He called the funding commitment a “key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member” and a reflection of “our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future.”
Blinken delivered his first remarks to the U.N. forum as part of a meeting on equitable global vaccine distribution. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the meeting by calling the current state of COVID-19 vaccination “wildly uneven and unfair.” He noted that 10 countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines, while more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chaired the meeting, and he called for a global cease-fire to ensure that 160 million people do not miss out on vaccination as a result of living in conflict-affected countries. Guterres similarly requested a global cease-fire for COVID-19 response in March last year, but his proposed resolution stalled over a dispute about whether it could mention WHO.
Blinken also reiterated that the U.S. government “believes that multilateralism, the United Nations, the World Health Organization are essential” and committed to backing reforms to strengthen WHO, support the Global Health Security Agenda, and “provide significant financial support to COVAX.”