Friday August 23, 2019

WHO: Rise of Ebola Epidemic in DRC’s Goma Could be a ‘Game Changer’

Participants at the meeting agree on the urgent need to stop the Ebola virus now

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ebola epidemic
A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center on July 15, 2019 in Goma. VOA

The head of the World Health Organization warns the spread of Ebola to a large city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could have dire consequences. The WHO chief spoke Monday at a high-level meeting that examined current efforts to contain the growing Ebola epidemic in Congo.

The Ebola outbreak in Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is the second largest after the historic 2014 epidemic that killed 11,300 people in West Africa. As the first anniversary of the DRC epidemic draws near, the WHO reports nearly 2,500 people have been infected with the virus and 1,665 people have died.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the effort to stop the spread of the disease has received another blow with the news that the first case of Ebola had been detected in the eastern Congolese city of Goma.

He says WHO was informed Sunday that a pastor who had traveled from Butembo was infected with the deadly virus.

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World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (R) listens to a delegate at the end of a meeting organised the United Nations on the Ebola disease in DRC, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. VOA

“The identification of the case in Goma could potentially be a game changer in this epidemic,” he said. “Goma is a city of two million people, near the border with Rwanda, and is a gateway to the region and the world.  We are confident in the measures we have put in place and hope that we will see no further transmission of Ebola in Goma.”

But Tedros agrees he cannot be sure of that.  And, so, he says he will reconvene a WHO Emergency Committee as soon as possible to determine whether Ebola in the DRC poses a global health threat.

The co-chair of this high-level conference, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, considers a lack of funding and eastern Congo’s dangerous security environment to be the two biggest threats to the anti-Ebola campaign.

Recently, two Ebola responders were murdered in their home in the Congolese city of Beni. On the financial front, he notes less than half of the money needed to run the Ebola containment operation has been received, leaving a funding gap of $50 million.

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FILE – Mwamini Kahindo, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, DRC, March 25, 2019. VOA

Lowcock warns it will not be possible to get to zero cases unless there’s a big upturn in the response.

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“If we do not get an increase in the funding available, treatment centers are going to close,” he said. “There will be fewer teams to conduct training or to give life-saving vaccinations.  There will be fewer mobile teams available to immediately investigate, isolate, treat and trace each new case no matter where the disease pops up.”

Participants at the meeting agree on the urgent need to stop the Ebola virus now. They say Goma is a warning that will test the health community’s response, preparedness and ultimate ability to prevent further cases of Ebola in that big urban center. (VOA)

Next Story

Two of Four Experimental Ebola Drugs Tests in Congo Saving Lives

The preliminary findings prompted an early halt to a major study on the drugs and a decision to prioritize their use in the African country

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Ebola, Drugs, Congo
FILE - Health workers wearing protective gear check on a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

Two of four experimental Ebola drugs being tested in Congo seem to be saving lives, international health authorities announced Monday.

The preliminary findings prompted an early halt to a major study on the drugs and a decision to prioritize their use in the African country, where a yearlong outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people.

The early results mark “some very good news,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study. With these drugs, “we may be able to improve the survival of people with Ebola.”

The two drugs — one developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and the other by NIH researchers — are antibodies that work by blocking the virus.

Ebola, Drugs, Congo
FILE – A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center in Goma, July 15, 2019. VOA

While research shows there is an effective albeit experimental vaccine against Ebola — one now being used in Congo — no studies have signaled which of several potential treatments were best to try once people became sick. During the West Africa Ebola epidemic several years ago, studies showed a hint that another antibody mixture named ZMapp worked, but not clear proof.

So with the current outbreak in Congo, researchers compared ZMapp to three other drugs — Regeneron’s compound, the NIH’s called mAb114 and an antiviral drug named remdesivir.

On Friday, independent study monitors reviewed how the first several hundred patients in the Congo study were faring — and found enough difference to call an early halt to the trial. The panel determined that the Regeneron compound clearly was working better than the rest, and the NIH antibody wasn’t far behind, Fauci explained. Next, researchers will do further study to nail down how well those two compounds work.

The data is preliminary, Fauci stressed. But in the study, significantly fewer people died among those given the Regeneron drug or the NIH’s — about 30% compared to half who received ZMapp. More striking, when patients sought care early — before too much virus was in their bloodstream — mortality was just 6% with the Regeneron drug and 11% with the NIH compound, compared to about 24% for ZMapp, he said.

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Among people who receive no care in the current outbreak, about three-fourths die, said Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization. All of Congo’s Ebola treatment units have access to the two drugs, he added, saying he was hopeful that the news would persuade more patients to seek care — as soon as symptoms appear.

Quick care ‘vital’

Tackling Congo’s outbreak has been complicated both by conflict in the region and because many people don’t believe Ebola is real and choose to stay at home when they’re sick, which spurs spread of the virus.

“Getting people into care more quickly is absolutely vital,” Ryan said. “The fact that we have very clear evidence now on the effectiveness of the drugs, we need to get that message out to communities.”

Ebola, Drugs, Congo
Two of four experimental Ebola drugs being tested in Congo seem to be saving lives, international health authorities announced Monday. Pixabay

Fauci said Regeneron and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which has licensed the NIH compound, told authorities enough doses are readily available.

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One issue researchers will have to analyze: Occasionally people who receive the Ebola vaccine still become sick, including some in the treatment study, which raises the question of whether their earlier protection inflated the drugs’ survival numbers. (VOA)