Ebola outbreaks, response … We’re reading about new and persistent challenges to confronting global health threats

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NewWWRAs policy makers and presidents from across Africa gathered in Washington, DC for the three-day U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit, the White House released a fact sheet Monday summarizing U.S.-African Cooperation on Global Health accomplishments of the past 20 years. With investments from the United States, other donors and increased local investments in public health spending In that time, the release notes, HIV incidence has been halved, deaths from tuberculosis dropped by 40 percent and improvements to health systems, training and drug supplies have allowed millions more children to grow up. More remains to be done, the release notes, citing continued HIV incidence, deaths of children five years and younger from vaccine preventable and treatable illnesses, deaths of women in childbirth, unmet needs for birth control, as well as surging rates of non-communicable and chronic diseases. “The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa underscores the need to build Africa’s capacity to prevent the emergence of global health threats,” the release says, “to detect threats early, and to respond rapidly and effectively.” We’re reading some of what Ebola tells us about continuing and and increasing challenges in global public health.

No Time To Lose – While the current Ebola outbreak is the worst to date, Peter Piot’s memoir of “A life in pursuit of deadly viruses,” takes readers back to the first outbreak in 1976 with detailed and vivid background. A co-discoverer of the Ebola virus when it emerged in what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Piot was 27 years old when he traveled into remote villages to find communities devastated by the swiftly spread plague that, more than anything was contained by geography. The spread of the virus to the capital city was the worst scenario that Piot, who years later was to lead the United Nations response to the global AIDS epidemic, could imagine back then.

Promising Ebola Drugs Stuck in Lab Limbo as Outbreak Rages in Africa – Now, with the death of a man in Lagos, Nigeria — the most populous city in Africa — who flew there from Liberia while sick with Ebola, fears of how far and how fast the current outbreak will spread have been heightened, this story on the National Geographic Daily News site by science writer Helen Branswell notes. In any case, the article says, with more than 1,300 cases and more than 600 deaths since March in West Africa, “it is inevitable that many more people will contract the virus and many will die.” In shaky and understaffed health systems the lack of resources to keep patients alive has fueled distrust of medical care, which in turn hinders efforts to control transmission, the article points out. A drug to cure the disease, or more likely a vaccine against it, would change the dynamic. But while some potential approaches appear promising, they remain out of reach, their development slowed by limited funding, lack of interest in developing a drug with limited markets on the part of big pharmaceutical companies, and with those limits, little support to get them through required regulatory steps.

Ebola: Hunt On to Treat, Prevent the ‘Merciless’ Virus – This Medpage Today article by science writer Michael Smith picks up the question, of why, after 40 years and repeated Ebola outbreaks, no treatment targeting the virus itself, no cure, and no vaccine yet exist. This article provides interesting insights on factors slowing vaccine development from U.S. National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and notes why the current outbreak is the largest yet, in an increasingly connected world — it is the first to hit large urban areas.

Involving everyone: social mobilization is key in an Ebola outbreak response – This World Health Organization bulletin from May cites the critical factor in overcoming stigma, fear, mistrust and hopelessness in combating infectious diseases — involving those on the ground.

I would sit next to Ebola sufferer on Tube – This interview with Peter Piot in the Telegraph has an unfortunate headline, and an even more unfortunate paraphrase of Piot’s words in the text (“adding he would happily sit next to an infected person on a train”) but also has his insights on the likelihood of a major Ebola epidemic in Europe, the United States or another part of Africa (not likely, he says), the need for accelerated vaccine development now as well as the impact of warfare and resulting health system deficits on outbreaks.

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