AHF Praises Congo Ebola Response; Calls for Wider Vaccine Distribution

In Featured by Rachel Mills

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which killed 8 people since early April, has “largely been contained,” with the last Ebola death reported there June 9th.

AHF, which sharply criticized WHO’s response to a 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak that infected over 28,000, and killed more than 11,000, praises the international, and WHO’s response to the current outbreak in the Congo, but decries the lack of any clear policy on the Ebola vaccine.

AHF also renews its call on WHO to expedite delivery of the vaccine to the DRC and other Ebola-prone countries like Uganda and urges that formal approval of the Ebola vaccine be hastened.

KAMPALA, UGANDA (July 19, 2018) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization and which lost two of its doctors in a previous and devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, today welcomed the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that a more recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has now “largely been contained,” according to South Africa’s ‘Southern Times.’

The current outbreak has killed 28 individuals in the DRC since April, with the last Ebola death there reported on June 9th.  ‘Southern Times’ also reported:

“On 3 July 2018, WHO reviewed the level of public health risk associated with the current outbreak. The latest assessment concluded that the current Ebola virus disease outbreak has largely been contained, considering that over 21 days (one maximum incubation period) have elapsed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was discharged and that contact tracing activities ended on 27 June 2018,” said WHO, in a statement.

AHF, which sharply criticized WHO’s laggard and haphazard response to the 2014 outbreak in Western Africa that infected over 28,000 individuals and killed more than 11,000, is offering limited praise for the international—and WHO’s— response to the current outbreak.

“Despite the good news in containing the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which we congratulate both WHO and the international community for work well done, we are disappointed in the lack of any clear policy on distribution of the Ebola vaccine, which might further inoculate the country and its population from a possible resurgence of the deadly virus,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We also renew our call—first made in May of this year—on WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Dr. Peter Salama, to expedite delivery of supplies of this vaccine to the DRC.”

In May, AHF called on the two WHO leaders to ensure that sufficient quantities of the Ebola vaccines are available and distributed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring high-risk countries. Frontline healthcare workers should be inoculated first, followed by the general public, in accordance with the WHO “ring vaccination” protocol. 

“Right now, we thankfully have a break in the infections and deaths, but we could easily run the risk of revisiting the devastation the virus brought to West Africa in 2014,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor, MD, MSc ID, Africa Bureau Chief for AHF. “The previous outbreak claimed the lives of over 11,000 people in West Africa—in recent months 28 people died of the same strain of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unless the global public health community continues to act quickly—now, with distribution of the vaccine—we could well soon witness the beginning of a new outbreak.”

AHF contributed personnel and supplies during the 2014 outbreak. One of AHF’s clinicians, Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan lost his life fighting to save Ebola patients in his native Sierra Leone, where he was the country’s only virologist. In addition, Dr. John Taban Dada, a consulting physician for AHF’s partner organization in Liberia, People Associated for People’s Assistance (PAPA) lost his life to Ebola in October 2014. Now that there is an effective vaccine, the world has a moral obligation to do everything in its power to protect public health first responders from Ebola.

“WHO, in partnership with the DRC government, needs to urgently step up the pace of vaccinations and create a cache of vaccines so that they are readily available in large enough quantities to achieve the widest possible inoculation coverage,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the Global Public Health Institute at University of Miami, and former head of Mexico’s CENSIDA. “Sufficient transportation and staff should be made available for the distribution of the vaccine, particularly in to hard-to-reach areas.”

AHF’s Weinstein added, “We applaud Merck Pharmaceuticals for donating doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, but the pharmaceutical industry can and should do more. The danger of Ebola and other fast-spreading, life-threatening infectious diseases should warrant expedited licensing and sharing of intellectual property between companies. This would ensure development of the most effective vaccine possible, while also allowing for increased mass production capabilities.”

Dr. Saavedra concluded, “AHF understands that the vaccine is experimental and needs the necessary protocols and regulations to ensure that the vaccine is safely and in accordance with appropriate protocols for mass distribution of a still experimental product. I think it is necessary to insist that in addition to distributing it quickly to save lives, it should be done in a way that allows collection of data in an ethical manner and according to the appropriate protocols, so that we do not miss the opportunity to know if this is a safe and effective product that could be used to prevent future outbreaks or to vaccinate immediately if there are other outbreaks. The global health community cannot afford to hesitate on Ebola this time around. History has shown that ineffectual leadership during a global public health emergency can have disastrous consequences, which are now entirely avoidable. We renew our call on Dr. Tedros, Dr. Salama and the staff of WHO and DRC regulatory authorities to always be properly trained to take any and all proper measures to ensure Ebola is contained and eliminated in the DRC and neighboring countries.”

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