Saturday November 23, 2019

WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Not a Public Health Emergency Despite its Spread from Congo to Uganda

The current Ebola outbreak in DRC has killed more than 1,400 people since it emerged last August

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FILE - An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April, 16, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization decided on Friday not to declare an international public health emergency over the Ebola outbreak, despite its recent spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda.

The WHO’s emergency committee described the outbreak as “an extraordinary event” of deep concern, but said it does not yet meet the criteria to be designated an international emergency.

The panel has only used the label “public health emergency of international concern” four times since the committee was formed in 2005. Those included the swine flu pandemic of 2009, the spread of poliovirus in 2014, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that begin in 2014, and the Zika virus in 2016.

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People coming from Congo have their temperature measured to screen for symptoms of Ebola, at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda, June 14, 2019. VOA

The designation usually triggers more funding and political awareness about the situation. The current Ebola outbreak in DRC has killed more than 1,400 people since it emerged last August. This week the virus spread to Uganda and there are worries the outbreak, which is also close to the borders of Rwanda and South Sudan, could spread to other countries.

ALSO READ: Ebola Outbreak in Uganda Raise Fears of Spread First Time Beyond Congo

The acting chair of the WHO emergency committee, Preben Aavitsland, said Friday that as long as the outbreaks continue in Congo, “there will be a risk of spread to neighboring countries.” However, he said, “the risk of spread to countries outside the region remains low.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that he accepted the panel’s advice. Tedros, who is in DRC to review the Ebola response, told reporters that “although the outbreak does not at this time pose a global health emergency, I want to emphasize that this outbreak is very much an emergency” for those who are affected by the disease. (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)