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Candidate vaccines against rare Ebola strain ready as Uganda battles outbreak

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MUBENDE, UGANDA: Health measures are taken at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital after an outbreak of Ebola in the country in Mubende, Uganda on September 20, 2022. (Nicholas Kajoba - Anadolu Agency)
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Nov 19, 2022 - 06:54 AM

KAMPALA, Uganda (AA) – The World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa said Thursday that three candidate vaccines against an Ebola strain currently circulating in Uganda will be shipped to the country for clinical trials.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a press briefing that they will be used in a “ring vaccination trial” where all contacts of confirmed Ebola patients and contacts of contacts are jabbed.

Uganda has been battling an outbreak caused by a rare Sudan strain of the virus, for which there is currently no vaccine.

“Even without a proven Ebola vaccine, we have been able to save lives by providing optimal supportive care. This includes early diagnosis and giving immediate care for dehydration with IV fluids and treating any co-infections like malaria” Dr. Fatuma Nakintu, a Health Ministry official, told Anadolu Agency.

The candidates include a vaccine developed by Oxford University and the Jenner Institute in Britain, and another from the Sabin Vaccine Institute in the US.

Speaking from the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a committee of external experts had evaluated candidate vaccines and determined that all three should be included in the planned trial in Uganda. No starting date has been set.

Uganda’s Health Ministry said that efforts to respond to the outbreak have slowed transmission, with two districts not reporting any cases for 42 days, indicating that the virus is no longer present in those areas. At the outbreak’s epicenter in Mubende district, case numbers have significantly fallen, according to ministry spokesperson Emma Ainebyona.

Risk of spillover

“The fact that we don’t have huge case numbers is no reason to celebrate yet. The geographic spread is going up. At least nine districts have now reported some cases. It might be just a matter of time before the virus spreads further,” Dr. Muhammad Kibuuka, a university lecturer, told Anadolu Agency.

He said if the outbreak goes on much longer, there is a likelihood of the virus spreading to other countries.

“We must remain vigilant but not panic and might need more resource mobilization to prevent the risk of the virus spreading outside Uganda,” Kibuuka added.

Uganda still faces significant funding shortfalls to cope with the outbreak. Moeti said the WHO has launched an $88.2 million appeal to fund the response in Uganda and to support Ebola readiness in neighboring countries. “Unfortunately, only 20% of this has so far been received. We plead that time is of the essence,” she said.

A shortage of staff is another major concern hampering care. The Uganda Medical Association says that staff coverage was 40% before the outbreak, and Ebola is now crippling the system indirectly.

Uganda has one of the world’s lowest doctor-to-patient ratios, with one doctor for every 25,000 people, versus the one-to-1,000 ratio recommended by the WHO.

According to Moeti, the WHO in the region has deployed 80 experts to support the response and assisted Ugandan health authorities to deploy a further 150, including over 60 epidemiologists.

The latest WHO figures put the number of cumulative confirmed cases at 141 and 22 probable Ebola infections, and 55 confirmed and 22 probable deaths. This brings the case fatality rate up to nearly 40%.

Ebola can spread from person to person through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids such as saliva, sweat, semen or feces, or through contaminated objects like bedding or needles.

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