Thursday August 22, 2019

Uganda Launching Largest-Ever Trial of Experimental Ebola Vaccine

The trial of the Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine involves up to 800 people and is supported by Doctors

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Uganda, Ebola, Vaccine
FILE - A woman and her child arrive for an Ebola-related investigation at the health facility at the Bwera hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 14, 2019. VOA

Researchers in Uganda are launching the largest-ever trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine that is expected to be deployed in neighboring Congo, where a deadly outbreak has killed over 1,800 people.

The trial of the Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine involves up to 800 people and is supported by Doctors without Borders and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Pontiano Kaleebu, a Ugandan researcher who leads the trial, said Friday that he regrets that the Janssen vaccine has not yet been deployed in Congo. The health minister there who stepped down last month had argued against its deployment, saying a second vaccine could create confusion on the ground.

Already more than 180,000 people in Congo’s yearlong outbreak have received an experimental but effective Merck vaccine, but health experts worry about the availability of doses as the virus now spreads in a major city, Goma, along the Rwanda border. The wife and 1-year-old daughter of the man who died this week of Ebola in Goma now have the disease.

Uganda, Ebola, Vaccine
Researchers in Uganda are launching the largest-ever trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine that is expected to be deployed in neighboring Congo. Pixabay

The Janssen vaccine has already been tested in about 6,000 people, most of them Africans, Kaleebu said. “We are excited about this (trial) … because this is one of the promising vaccines,” he said. “It’s one of those vaccines that have shown a lot of promise in animal studies but also in other trials that have been conducted.”

Ugandan researchers said the new trial is expected to last two years and will test how long any protection from Ebola would last. Juliet Mwanga, a co-investigator on the trial, said there is the need “to study many vaccines” in light of Congo’s epidemic.

Health experts have watched with dismay as the promise of the Merck vaccine in this outbreak has been largely overshadowed by severe challenges to virus containment efforts including rebel attacks and community resistance in a part of Congo that had never experienced Ebola before.

Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks in the past. While it is currently free of the virus, three people who crossed on an unguarded footpath into the country in June died before their family members were taken back to Congo for treatment.

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The Ebola virus can spread quickly and be fatal in up to 90% of cases. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus is most often spread by close contact with bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms and with contaminated objects such as sheets. Health care workers are often at risk. (VOA)

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U.N. Secretary-General to Travel to Epicenter of Ebola Outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC is no stranger to periodic outbreaks of the Ebola virus, but this most recent epidemic is the worst the African nation has seen in 40 years

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FILE - Health workers begin their shift at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 16, 2019. The Ebola outbreak has been declared an international emergency after it spread to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. VOA

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo next week.

The DRC is no stranger to periodic outbreaks of the Ebola virus, but this most recent epidemic is the worst the African nation has seen in 40 years.

The World Health Organization says the country has recorded more than 2,800 confirmed cases and at least 1,900 deaths from the virus, which spreads primarily through contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected fruit bats or monkeys.

Guterres plans to visit the country for three days, arriving Aug. 31. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that Guterres wants to assess the situation and mobilize additional support for the response.

UN, Ebola, Outbreak
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo next week. Pixabay

“In the province of North Kivu, he is scheduled to meet with Ebola survivors and health workers during a visit to an Ebola treatment center,” Dujarric said.

He also is to meet with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in the capital, Kinshasa.

In July, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern.

The majority of cases have been concentrated in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, in the country’s northeast, but cases have emerged in other parts of the country.

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At least three cases were also confirmed in June in neighboring Uganda. The people infected with the virus there had traveled from the DRC and had been in contact with a relative who died of Ebola. (VOA)