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First doses of experimental Ebola vaccine arrive DRC

The first 4,000 doses of experimental vaccine provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat against the Ebola outbreak arrived on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Orly Ilunga
Orly Ilunga, the Congolese Minister of Health

Orly Ilunga, the Congolese Minister of Health, who received the vaccine in Kinshasa, indicated that the batch received from WHO would be stored first in the laboratory of the National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, before being transported to the health zone of Bikoro, in the province of Equateur in the north-west of the country.

According to the Ministry of Health, a vaccination campaign is planned for this week to raise awareness about this vaccination, which will be tested for the first time in the DRC.

During his visit to Kinshasa last Saturday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, met with the President of the DRC, Jospeh Kabila, who officially authorised the use of this vaccine against the Ebola virus in his country.

According to the latest WHO statistic, 32 cases (two confirmed cases, 18 probable and 12 suspects), including 18 deaths, confirmed Ebola death, were recorded between April 4 and May 9 in Bikoro.

NAN reports that the WHO on Monday gave the go-ahead to officials in the DRC to import and use an experimental Ebola vaccine in the country.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We have agreement, registration, plus import permit, everything formally agreed already.

“All is ready now to really use it.”

The vaccine, developed by Merck in 2016, has proven safe and effective in human trials, but it is still experimental as it does not yet have a licence.

It must be kept at -60 to -80 degrees Celsius (-76°F to -112°F), creating huge logistical challenges.

The shot, which was tested in Guinea in 2015 at the end of a vast Ebola outbreak in West Africa, is designed for use in a so-called “ring vaccination” approach.

This would mean that when a new Ebola case is diagnosed, all people who might have been in recent contact with them are traced and vaccinated to try and prevent the disease’s spread.

The WHO said 393 people who identified as contacts of Ebola patients were being followed up.

Tedros travelled to Congo over the weekend and flew to the remote area, still only accessible by motorbike or helicopter, where the deadly haemorrhagic disease has broken out.

“Being there is very, very important. If a general cannot be with its troops in the front line it’s not a general,” he said.

“And the second thing is, associated with Ebola there is stigma. We have to go and show that that should really stop. And if there is risk, my life is not better than anyone.”

He praised the Congolese government, including President Joseph Kabila whom he met during his trip.

Information about the outbreak in Bikoro, Iboko and Wangata in Equateur province was still limited, the WHO said, but at present the outbreak does not meet the criteria for declaring a “public health event of international concern”, which would trigger the formation of an emergency WHO committee.

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