Don't drop the ball on Ebola fight - report
13 June 2016, 14:06
Cape Town - A vaccine alone will not eliminate the threat of
the Ebola virus, which in the most recent epidemic killed more than 11 000
people, according to a global report to be released on Monday.
A greater emphasis on global epidemic preparedness and
strengthening public health in Africa was also essential, said the report,
which spells out what needs to be done to contain the threat in future.
It urges the international community to prioritise efforts
to fight Ebola, even though the immediate threat from the latest epidemic in
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea appears to have subsided.
In a positive development last week, Liberia - which was the
worst hit during the West African epidemic – was reported to be Ebola-free
after reaching the end of active virus transmission.
"It is hoped the international community won’t drop the
ball just because Ebola no longer seems as scary as it did in 2014,” said
public health professor Helen Epstein, author of the Brenthurst Foundation
report 11 312 unnecessary Ebola-related deaths: building Citizen Trust in
"Such a vaccine had been in the works for over a decade
before the West African epidemic, but lack of funding and a general assumption
that Ebola outbreaks were invariably small and easily contained, meant progress
had stalled," she said.
When the virus peaked from 2014, travel bans were enforced
amid anxiety over a possible global pandemic.
Renewed global effort
Efforts to develop a vaccine "redoubled" from
2014, said Epstein. Clinical trials were initiated or completed and clinical
efficacy established. An application had been submitted to the World Health
Organisation for a vaccine to be used in emergencies, with plans for a broader
But this alone was not enough.
"More data is needed on the safety and efficacy of
these vaccines, the regulatory processes in African countries needs to be
expedited, and African public health leaders must plan for how the vaccines
will be used," said Epstein. "All of these activities, along with the
refinement of the vaccine itself, need to be prioritised," she said.
"In addition to applying global measures, such as a
more robust emergency preparedness system for Africa and improved health
systems, more care must be taken to understand the particular political climate
of each county."
The report is the culmination of a global conference held in
March, Learning from the West African Ebola Epidemic, which was co-hosted by
Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Wilmot James.
James said that South Africa was in a "unique
position" to assist in international efforts due to its medical expertise,
research and infrastructure.
Traumatised nations were seeking to "rebuild themselves
on the back of a renewed global effort to prevent, contain and respond to
outbreaks of pathogenic disease that will, by, the nature of these things, come
again", he warned in the foreword of the report.
Epstein is a global advisor and visiting professor of Human
Rights and Global Health at Bard College in New York.