LOS ANGELES (August 5, 2019) With the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recently hitting its one-year mark on August 1, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) once again urges the World Health Organization (WHO) to fast-track the approval of Merck’s highly successful vaccine to ensure it is available to all who need it.
The sobering Ebola numbers have consistently mounted over the last year, with 2,671 cases and 1,790 deaths reported as of July 28. In addition to the virus spreading to neighboring Uganda in June, four cases have now been confirmed in Goma—a populous city with over 1 million people located near the DRC/Rwanda border.
“We’re relieved that WHO finally declared the outbreak an international emergency, but now it needs to use that declaration to expedite the approval of Merck’s vaccine,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “This vaccine has proven to have a success rate of over 97% – and we’re at a critical juncture in the response, where one false move can mean increased exposure both within the DRC and beyond. The time for the vaccine being utilized solely as compassionate use has passed—the approval process must be sped up.”
It takes Merck approximately one year to make a new batch of its lifesaving vaccine, with the next one not slated for delivery until January. Even though WHO has been able to increase the quantity of vaccines on hand by halving the current stockpile, there is still a danger of depleting the supply should the crisis further deteriorate, or even worse, if another outbreak pops up somewhere else.
“This vaccine was successfully used in Guinea in 2015 during the West Africa Ebola outbreak that killed over eleven-thousand people, including two AHF doctors,” added Weinstein. “It’s been proven time and time again to be effective—so whatever must be done to get it approved, should be done immediately.”
AHF provided support to Sierra Leone in 2014 by donating $1 million in personal protection equipment. It continues joining the fight in the current Ebola outbreak by recently donating $30,000 in medical equipment and supplies protect health workers in Uganda – where AHF operates an HIV/AIDS program. The donation was to protect its staff and operations, but to also highlight how ill-prepared healthcare workers on the continent remain, even after lessons learned during the West Africa Ebola disaster.
AHF urges WHO to immediately approve Merck’s vaccine and address these severe gaps in preparedness—as well as bolstering logistics planning—including cold chain, storage and supply for increased vaccines. Tackling these critical hurdles will be effective steps in ensuring outbreak preparedness is and remains a top priority in Africa.