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Major Breakthrough Made In The Treatment Of Ebola Virus

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment

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Ebola, pregnant women
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

In northeastern Congo, more than 600 people have fallen ill with the Ebola virus, and at least 368 people have died from the disease. It’s been difficult to contain the virus because of conflict in the region, despite medical advances, including a vaccine.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is where Ebola was first discovered in 1976, when the country was called Zaire. The disease was named after the Ebola River where the virus was spreading. Between then and 2013, there was no treatment or a vaccine. The outbreak ran its course in quarantined communities.

Scientists started studying the virus, however, trying to come up with better ways to handle its various deadly strains. They succeeded in producing a vaccine to help end the Ebola epidemic that swept through three West African countries between 2013 and 2016. More than 11,000 people died in that outbreak.

Ebola
Tom Geisbert, right, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explains to Texas Gov. Rick Perry the work researchers are conducting in a Bio Safety Level 4 lab in the Galveston National Laboratory, Oct. VOA

Treatment found

At that time, treatment for the Zaire strain of Ebola was developed. It was costly to produce and didn’t work on two other lethal strains, the Sudan and Bundibugyo viruses.

But now scientists have found one. Their research produced a drug cocktail called MBP134 that helped monkeys infected with three deadly strains of Ebola recover from the disease.

What’s more, the treatment requires a single intravenous injection.

Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D., led the research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, part of a public-private partnership that also included Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Ebola
Medical staff are sterilized before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, on Aug. 17, 2018, where there is one suspected case of Ebola. VOA

Must treat all strains

In an interview with VOA, Geisbert stressed the need for a treatment that would be effective against all strains of Ebola.

“When an outbreak occurs, we really don’t know which one of those three strains, species, we call them, is the cause of that particular episode,” Geisbert said.

He added that the treatments available have been effective only against the Zaire species, which leaves people infected with the other species unprotected.

“Our goal was to develop a treatment that would work regardless of the particular strain of Ebola that was causing it,” Geisbert said.

“If I have to make a drug that only works against Zaire, and another drug that only works against Sudan and another drug that only works against the Bundibugyo species, that is extremely expensive,” he added.

Geisbert said the treatment will save valuable time in determining which strain of Ebola is circulating in a particular outbreak. It will save lives because people can be treated immediately, and it will also save money.

Ebola, mother
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2018. VOA

No profit

There’s no profit for the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs.

“It’s not like you’re making up vaccine for flu where companies [are] going to make a profit. There’s really a small global market for Ebola so it really has to be sponsored by the government,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. Army and the Canadian government, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has supported much of this research.

Geisbert said the work ahead involves tweaking the dose to its lowest possible amount, making it easier to distribute — again to reduce costs — and conducting clinical trials in humans to ensure the treatment is safe and effective.

Geisbert is confident it will work in humans, although he cautioned that in science, nothing is certain.

Ebola, Baby, fighting
A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment at the ready to stop future Ebola outbreaks.

Also Read: Congo’s President Challenges Election Result In High Court

It also means that should someone with Ebola walk into a hospital outside of Africa, as happened in Texas when a Liberian man sought treatment, the patient can be cured, and health care workers can be protected. (VOA)

Next Story

Usage Of Expired Polio Vaccines Creates a Public Scare In China

Regardless of how harsh the punishments will be, what’s more important is no more faulty vaccines used on their children, many parents said.

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China, Vaccines
A child receives a vaccination shot at a hospital in Rongan in China's southern Guangxi region on July 23, 2018. VOA

A recent vaccine scandal in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, where 145 children were confirmed to have received expired polio vaccinations, has once again exposed the country’s poor vaccine management and lack of systematic regulatory oversight, a former Chinese health official said.

To eradicate such lapses, Chen Bingzhong, ex-head of China’s Health Education Research Institute, calls for a nationwide probe, in which, third-party stakeholders such as parents, lawyers or reporters should take part to ensure transparency.

“There should first be a thorough probe into the cause of the Jiangsu case, which serves as another wake-up call. But who should launch the investigation? Local health departments alone won’t work because they are the ones who cause the problem and should be held responsible. An [unbiased] third party has to be involved,” Chen said.

Expired vaccine probe

Jiangsu police, on Monday, began an investigation after the local government in the province’s Jinhu County concluded that “only 145 children” were orally administered with polio vaccines that expired on December 11, 2018.

And so far a total of 17 officials have been punished, including the deputy head of Jinhu County.

China, Vaccines

The local government has also promised check-ups on all affected children.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, blamed the county’s online registration system, which she said failed to alert doctors about expired vaccines or registered the wrong expiration date, according to a Global Times report.

A cover-up?

But many worried parents are skeptical of the official findings and suspect a larger-scale cover-up.

The case came to light on Jan 7 when a parent — a retired hospital worker — discovered that oral vaccine given to her grandkid was nearly a month out of date, according to local media reports.

Many parents, who picked up the news on social media, followed suit to check batch numbers on their children’s vaccination history and found that expired vaccines include not only polio vaccines, but also diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT), hepatitis B and varicella.

And the problem dates back to a decade ago, which is further fueling suspicion that the majority of the county’s 20,000 children under the age of 14 may have been exposed to faulty vaccines. The case in Jinhu is the latest in a string of similar scandals in China.

Late last week, hundreds of anxious parents gathered in front of Jinhu government offices, demanding answers.

Vaccines
A doctor assists people looking for treatment for malaria at a health center. VOA

Violent scuffles

Video footage that has gone viral on the Internet showed repeated scuffles between angry crowds, besieged government officials and squads of mob police, which continued into the night.

Three parents ended up being arrested and local residents have expressed difficulty in uploading videos of the protests to social media.

On Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter in China, some urged parents in Jinhu to stay calm, but many more shared their anger.

“The government’s credibility is overdrawn and the people’s tolerance is being put to the test,” one Weibo user said.

“To be honest, our regulators are all façade with little function,” another complained.

Public outcry

Parents elsewhere complained of governments of all levels’ inaction to address the country’s vaccine problems including appropriate compensations to those who suffer adverse effects.

The Drugs Controller General of India plans to come out with vaccine specific regulatory policy and a manual for regulatory requirements for commercialization of new drug and on how to conduct clinical trials in India, it was announced on Saturday.
To eradicate such lapses, Chen Bingzhong, ex-head of China’s Health Education Research Institute, calls for a nationwide probe, Pixabay

A father from Fujian province surnamed Lin told VOA that the local government there has done nothing to help this teenaged son, who experienced severe adverse effects from vaccines at the age of three.

“They [the Fujian government] keep patronizing me and passing the buck,” he said.

“Two to three years ago, my kid was identified to be suffering adverse reactions from vaccines, which is extremely rare. If the government can help deal with it, we have nothing to complain. But it’s been ten years, the government hasn’t even tried to take up a [responsible] stance, which I find very hard to accept. My child is now in a [brain-damaged] state,” he added.

A series of vaccine scandals in China including years of illegal sales of improperly-refrigerated vaccines and locally-produced substandard vaccines, which respectively came to light in March and July last year, have seriously undermined public confidence in spite of repeated calls for tightened regulation.

Vaccine management law

Wang Yuedan, deputy director of Peking University’s immunology department, however, insisted that the Jiangsu case is an isolated misconduct of local medical staff and the upcoming passage of a law on vaccine management will help address regulatory loopholes.

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The case came to light on Jan 7 when a parent — a retired hospital worker — discovered that oral vaccine given to her grandkid was nearly a month out of date. Pixabay

To tighten supervision on vaccines, Beijing released a draft Vaccine Management Law this month and is seeking public opinions until next month.

“I believe, once the law takes effect, there will be harsher punishments [on lawbreakers] to prevent such lapses. Among past expired vaccine cases, the punishment imposed on officials [in Jinhu] this time have been the harshest-ever,” he said.

But Chen disagreed.

He asked why many people from local medical staff to regulators in Jiangsu, who are responsible of tracking vaccine flows, have failed to sound alarm bells over expired vaccines?

Also Read: China Exchanged Data With NASA On Its Recent Mission To Moon

That shows a systematic regulatory negligence — serious flaws that legal revisions alone won’t cure if few profit-driven lawbreakers and officials who helped cover up the crisis have been held responsible, he said, adding a nationwide probe will find parents in Jiangsu aren’t alone.

Regardless of how harsh the punishments will be, what’s more important is no more faulty vaccines used on their children, many parents said. (VOA)