The last time we reported on Ebola, Sierra Leone was experiencing one of the last remaining cases in the West African epidemic of 2013-2016.
There are now reports that a new outbreak of the deadly, hemorrhagic virus is occurring in the Congo.
An Ebola outbreak has been declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where three people have been confirmed dead and another six are suspected to be infected with the virus, the World Health Organization has said.
Investigations are still being carried out into how the Ebola virus – which killed 49 people in DRC during a three-month outbreak in 2014 – suddenly occured in the equatorial forest region of Bas-Uele province, which borders Central African Republic (CAR).
In a televised address, DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, warned that the outbreak was a “national health emergency with international significance” but urged people “not to panic”.
There have been seven previous instances of Ebola outbreaks in the Congo since 1976. However, the last epidemic garnered worldwide concern because of a mutation that made the virus easier to transmit and deadlier to human who were infected.
One aspect of the international response that will be different for this outbreak is that an experimental Ebola vaccine is now available.
Supplies of the vaccine, first tested during the widespread West African outbreak, have been stockpiled by Gavi, a public-private partnership that makes vaccines available to lower-income countries.
“The fact that this is a country that has experience dealing with Ebola should give us hope that we won’t see a pandemic on the scale of the 2014 outbreak that hit West Africa,” Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO, said in a statement.
The vaccine, designed by scientists at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, is being developed by the pharmaceutical giant Merck. Work is still underway to get the vaccine licensed. But in the meantime, Gavi has an agreement with Merck that requires the company to stockpile large supplies of the vaccine in case it is needed to contain an outbreak.
“Gavi’s work with Merck means there are 300,000 doses of Ebola vaccine available if needed to stop this outbreak becoming a pandemic,” Berkley said. “The vaccine has shown high efficacy in clinical trials and could play a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable.”
Another aspect of the response that will be different may be the approach of the American government, should another epidemic develop. During the campaign in 2016, candidate Donald Trump wanted to stop those infected (including Americans) from entering the country.
Legal Insurrection readers may recall that the poor response by American public health officials to the the spread of the infection from a patient in Dallas to his healthcare workers, one of whom potentially exposed a plane full of fellow Americans. I anticipate that under President Trump, there will be a more robust and America-first approach if a similar situation arises again.DONATE
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