By: Yemisi Akinbobola
As efforts to find a cure for the Ebola virus gather momentum, Yemisi Akinbola for Africa Renewal caught up with Dr Bernadette Murgue, the Deputy Director of the French Institut de Microbiologie et des Maladies Infectieuses IMMI (Institute of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases), to talk about issues surrounding Ebola treatment. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Africa Renewal: Prior to the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, what research had been done into finding a vaccine for the disease?
Dr Murgue: There is a vaccine by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that is currently in phase one trials. It has been under evaluation in pre-clinical trials for safety and tolerability. It is being tried on a small number of healthy people.
Why the limited doses then?
There are two vaccines. The one by GSK and they have at least 10,000-20,000 doses. The other one is a collaboration between Canada and America. The most advanced is the GSK one and they have quite a lot of doses at the moment. The vaccine is to prevent, not to treat the disease and was to be given to the people that are the most exposed.
How about those that are infected?
Those infected need to be cared for. We require infrastructure, personnel and hospital equipment. If the infected can get care when they arrive at the Ebola centres as early as possible, the chances of survival increase.
Is ZMapp currently being used widely on the ground?
First of all, ZMapp is not a vaccine, it is a therapeutic. Many times it has been called a vaccine, but it’s not, it is a treatment. It has been given to patients, mostly patients from Northern countries and also to health care workers in Liberia.
Are there any organisations in Africa working on vaccines for Ebola?
It would be good if it were possible to do that. It’s very expensive to develop a vaccine. But in the future, once a candidate has been identified, then why not advocate for a company in Africa to produce a vaccine?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There’s one main point here, treatment of Ebola at the onset and standard care is key for the patient. That is why we need infrastructure, logistics, human resources, health care workers and all of us to fight this disease.
Do you think the world in general and Africa in particular have responded appropriately and on time?
We know the countries that are affected by Ebola are already in a difficult situation, especially their healthcare systems. Nobody expected Ebola to be such a catastrophic epidemic. It started in a remote area which is not very densely populated and it took a bit of time for experts to realise that it was something different and very frightening.