Monday December 9, 2019

UN Draws Measures to Strengthen Response to Combat Ebola Epidemic in DRC

WHO is adapting public health response strategies to identify and treat people as quickly as possible, expanding vaccination to reach and protect more people

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FILE - Health workers carry a coffin containing a victim of the Ebola virus on May 16, 2019 in Butembo. VOA

The United Nations has drawn up new measures to strengthen its response to the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and put an end to the spread of this deadly virus, which already has claimed more than 1200 lives.

The plan is top-heavy with senior officials who will oversee and coordinate U.N. and international efforts to come to grips with this virulent disease. The Ebola epidemic was declared 10 months ago in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces in eastern DRC.

Since then, growing insecurity and community mistrust have hampered efforts to contain the virus, heightening the risk of the disease spreading to neighboring countries.

To deal with this increasingly complex situation, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says the U.N., in close cooperation with the DRC government and partners, is strengthening its political engagement, bolstering preparedness plans and increasing support for humanitarian coordination.

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FILE – Victorine Siherya, 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, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 25, 2019. VOA

“WHO is adapting public health response strategies to identify and treat people as quickly as possible, expanding vaccination to reach and protect more people; and redoubling work to end transmission in health facilities,” said Jasarevic. “The United Nations Secretary-General has established a strengthened coordination and support mechanism in the epicenter of the outbreak, Butembo.”

To head this effort, the U.N. chief has appointed two high-ranking experienced officials. David Gressly, newly appointed as U.N. Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator will oversee the coordination of international support for the Ebola response.

ALSO READ: WHO to Strengthen Strategies to Combat Ebola Epidemic in Congo

He will work closely with WHO on health operations and with Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response, Ibrahima Soce Fall. He has been leading WHO’s Ebola response in DRC from Butembo since mid-March.

Fall, whose responsibilities will be expanded, praises the new approach to the Ebola crisis. He says it will provide better security for patients and health workers and wider access to an effective Ebola vaccine. He says the plan also will present a more humane face to the response, which should help allay community suspicion. (VOA)

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Researchers in Uganda Launch Ebola Vaccine Trial for Two Years

The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company

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FILE - A Ugandan health worker prepares to administer the Ebola vaccine to a man in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Eight hundred health workers involved in the fight against the Ebola virus are receiving doses of a two-part vaccine. Researchers who launched a trial this week for a new Ebola vaccine say the new vaccine trial will take two years to complete.

Dr. Juliet Mwanga, director of the Mbarara Research Center, said the vaccine combines antigen — a substance that induces an immune response in the body — from the Ebola virus, a common adenovirus, and the vaccinia Ankara vaccine. The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company.

“This J and J vaccine aims at prevention — primary prevention before you have contact at all,” said Mwanga. “And the other difference, as I said, it has two parts. So, you’re given the first dose, and 56 days later, you get another dose, which boosts your immunity. So, hopefully it works for a longer time.”

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Deo Bakulu has been washing his hands every chance he gets since Ebola reached eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma. VOA

Currently, Uganda is using an Ebola vaccine by the Merck pharmaceutical company, but Mwanga said they need to try out new vaccines, too. Uganda’s move is motivated by its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 1,800 people have died from an Ebola outbreak that began a year ago.

ALSO READ: Medicare Uses Breakthrough Gene Therapy to Cover Some Blood Cancers

Dr. Kimton Opio, the coordinator of the trial, said the vaccine is being tested on 800 health care workers and front-line support workers who meet a few basic requirements. “Someone has to be 18 years and over,” he said. ” Then, of course, they have to be able to sign the  [consent] form. Then they must not have been vaccinated with Ebola before, or they must have not suffered from Ebola before.”

The researchers are hopeful the vaccine, if effective, will help Uganda and neighboring countries that have endured Ebola outbreaks. Uganda has seen no new cases of Ebola in recent weeks. But, health officials have been on high alert since June, when two adults and a five-year-old boy who had crossed into Uganda from the DRC died of the virus. (VOA)