From coronavirus to ebola: the five recent global health emergencies

23 March 2020 (Last Updated March 23rd, 2020 08:08)

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared five global public health emergencies in the last six years since the 2014 ebola outbreak that followed the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in 2009.

From coronavirus to ebola: the five recent global health emergencies
The WHO declared five public health emergencies of international concern between 2014 and 2020.

The 2019 coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) is the latest among the five major pandemics that occurred in a decade. Pharmaceutical Technology takes a look at the five international public health emergencies (level-3) the WHO declared due to the biggest viral disease outbreaks.

Covid-19 (2019-nCoV)

Global health emergency declared on 31 January 2020 and global pandemic declared on 11 March

The 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak from the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019 spread to more than 160 countries in less than two months.

The WHO officially renamed the disease as Covid-19 on 11 February and the virus that causes the disease as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Although the WHO declared the pandemic as a public health emergency of local concern in China, the fast spread to other countries led to the declaration of an emergency of global concern on 31 January.

The novel coronavirus outbreak caused more than 14,000 deaths as of 21 March, while more than 330,000 cases have been confirmed.


Follow the updates on coronavirus:

Timeline of the novel coronavirus outbreak and the latest updates

Full list of the countries affected by the 2019 novel coronavirus

Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan for treating coronavirus patients


2018 Ebola

Global emergency declared on 17 July 2019

An ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was declared on 1 August 2018, the second such in the same decade and tenth ebola outbreak in the African republic of Congo. The WHO declared the outbreak as an international public health emergency on 17 July 2019.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) continues to affect Congo even in 2020. The ongoing epidemic has 3,421 cases reported as of 28 January 2020, among which 3,302 are confirmed. Deaths among confirmed cases reached 2,123 as of 28 January.

Two drugs are being tested currently for ebola virus treatment, under a therapeutic trial named PALM, a WHO initiative.

2016 Zika

Global health emergency declared on 17 July 2019

A zika virus outbreak in 2016 that had origins in Brazil spread to Americas and eventually to all countries that have the aedes mosquitoes, which are the principal species known to cause the disease.

The WHO declared the zika virus outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern in February 2016 and continued the same until 18 November 2016. The most recent zika virus case was reported in France in October 2019.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 2,300 zika virus disease cases in the first half of 2016.

No vaccines exist currently to immunise against the zika virus, which is recently known to cause neurological disorders and birth defects such as microcephaly.

2014 polio

Global health emergency declared on 05 May 2014

Despite global efforts to eradicate the polio virus (poliomyelitis), either vaccine-derived or wild polio viruses (WPV) are being reported and the virus still risks a number of African countries.

The most recent international health emergency on a polio outbreak was declared by the WHO on 05 May 2014, following more than 400 cases being registered of the virus in 2013 due to international spread. Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic were identified to pose the highest exportation risk of the virus at that time.

Philippines had the most recent polio outbreak in September 2019. Polioviruses of different types were also reported in 2019 in countries including Camerron, Iran, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique, and Congo.

2014 Ebola

Global health emergency declared on 08 August 2014

The ebola outbreak in 2014 started in a small village south-east of Guinea, West Africa, where a first case was identified in December 2013. The virus spread to other parts of the world, blowing up into a global epidemic within few weeks.

The WHO declared the outbreak as a global emergency on 08 August 2014.

The 2014 ebola outbreak ended in 2016, with 28,639 cases suspected/probable/confirmed and 11,316 deaths making it the biggest ebola outbreak in history.

The epidemic caused $2.2bn loss to GDP to the three African countries Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, according to the World Bank’s estimates.

The US, UK, and Germany together donated approximately $3.6bn for response activities.