Sunday December 8, 2019

WHO: Vaccine Slows the Spread of Ebola Virus in Eastern Congo

Ryan said there are plans to roll out a second experimental vaccine, which would expand the target population to be immunized

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FILE - A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization reports an experimental vaccine is saving lives and slowing the spread of the Ebola virus in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But as the first anniversary of the Ebola epidemic nears, the WHO warns many challenges remain before the deadly disease is fully contained.

More than 2,600 cases of Ebola, including 1,756 deaths, have been reported in North Kivu and Ituri provinces since Aug. 1, 2018, according to WHO, making this the second worst Ebola outbreak after the 2014 West African epidemic, which killed more than 11,000 people.

A second wave of the outbreak in the Beni health zone is larger than the first wave one year ago, WHO reports. Beni accounts for more than half of the 242 new cases of Ebola reported in the last three weeks. Other recent hotspots include Mandima, Mabalako and Katwa.

Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO health emergencies, has credited the work of the international operation for preventing the spread of the virus outside North Kivu and Ituri provinces. In addition, there are no confirmed cases in neighboring countries. More than 175,000 people have been vaccinated against Ebola as a preventive measure, he reported.

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Burial workers dressed in protective gear carry the remains of an Ebola victim in Beni, Congo, July 14, 2019. VOA

“Ebola is a disease that can be controlled without a vaccine. But in this case, and particularly because we are working in such a very difficult situation, we believe the vaccine has been vital in breaking the chains of transmission,” Ryan said, adding that he has been involved in about 17 Ebola responses over the years, but this is the first time a vaccine has been available.

While there is no shortage of the vaccine, Ryan said there are plans to roll out a second experimental vaccine, which would expand the target population to be immunized.

ALSO READ: Tobacco Epidemic: WHO Urges Nations to Implement Anti-Tobacco Measures

Obstacles ahead

Ryan said the progress being made is substantial, but challenges remain. He cited security as a major concern, noting that a number of health workers have been killed by armed men and some areas are off limits because of the existing dangers.

While most communities are accepting the need for vaccinations, treatment and safe burials, Ryan acknowledged that significant pockets of mistrust remain, which hamper efforts to tackle the disease. In addition, he said, the operation is badly funded and more than $350 million is needed over the coming months to tackle the Ebola threat. (VOA)

Next Story

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)