DRC Ebola PHEIC continues amid ongoing obstacles while vaccine approval represents “major milestone” for future responses

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While the committee examining the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo emerged today from its 5th meeting with the conclusion that transmissions of the virus there continues to pose a public health emergency of international concern (or PHEIC), news on the vaccine used to control the outbreak represented game-changing developments for the control of future outbreaks, World Health Organization officials announced today.

The European Medicines Agency — the European body regulating pharmaceutical products — announced it has approved marketing of the vaccine that has so far been used under investigational and emergency restrictions on the same day the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced findings from a trial testing the vaccine on macaques indicating that a greatly diluted dose of the vaccine could be effective. Both developments bode well for the prevention and swifter control of future Ebola epidemics, officials said.

In the meantime, officials remain reluctant to project when the current epidemic will end. The numbers of cases and affected health zones had begun to decline even before the July declaration of a PHEIC, and, encouragingly continues to do so, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted today. But the epidemic, which began nearly 15 months ago in a conflict-riven region of the country, “remains complex and dangerous,” he added, requiring “full force” efforts to bring it under control and meet the needs of those in its path. Violence and political instability continue to obstruct both efforts to contain, and accurately ascertain the spread of the disease, now concentrated in an area where both legal and illegal mining takes place, he noted. At the same time, while donor pledges of the estimated $394 million needed for responses to the crisis through December fall slightly short, and actual disbursement of funding lags significantly — leaving questions of whether all pledged funds will be available when needed — preparation for the spread of this epidemic or future ones in surrounding countries remains “grossly under-funded,” Tedros said. With the funding projected to be needed to bolster capacities to detect, prevent, and contain the spread of the virus in neighboring countries set at $66 million, only $4.5 million has materialized, Tedros said.

 

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