On August 8, 33 weeks into the longest, largest, and most widespread Ebola outbreak on record, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This declaration was not made lightly. A PHEIC is an instrument of the International Health Regulations (IHR) — a legally binding agreement made by 196 countries on containment of major international health threats.
The August 8 statement made by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan followed advice from the independent IHR Emergency Committee. Reviewing all the available evidence, the committee concluded that further international spread of Ebola could have serious consequences. Their concern was based on the continuing transmission of Ebola in West African communities and health facilities, the high case fatality rate of Ebola virus disease (EVD), and the weak health services of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and other neighboring countries at risk for infection.