GENEVA - A deadly Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is deeply worrying, but does not yet merit being labelled a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said.
"Based on the current context... the committee recommended that the current Ebola outbreak in DRC does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"I have accepted the recommendation of the committee," he told reporters in Geneva following a meeting of the UN agency's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.
Tedros stressed though that the decision not to use the label for the epidemic that has killed at least 139 people in DRC's violence-torn North Kivu region since August "does not mean that WHO is not taking the outbreak seriously."
"We will not rest until the outbreak is finished," he said, voicing hope that the robust response already in place could halt the spread of the virus "within this year".
The latest outbreak -- the 10th in DR Congo since Ebola was first detected there in 1976 -- emerged in the highly-restive northeastern region of North Kivu, which is home to a clutch of armed groups.
So far, 216 cases have been reported, including 181 that have been laboratory confirmed. A total of 139 people have died, meaning the fatality rate stands at 64 percent, WHO said.
Fears and misconceptions about the virus have led to widespread mistrust and resistance to Ebola response workers, including those who come into communities wearing hazmat suits to orchestrate burials.
The committee determined though that DRC authorities and the international community were already responding robustly to the outbreak, and that Uganda was well-prepared if the virus spreads across the border.
The use of an experimental vaccine is also promising, with more than 18,000 people having received the jab to date, WHO said.
"I think the vaccine is helping," Tedros said.