THE current outbreak of Ebola in eastern DR Congo that began in August last year and is the biggest of the 10 to hit the country since 1976, which has left more than 1,800 people dead compared to when the virus was first discovered. The current outbreak In July WHO declared the Ebola crisis in the country a “public health emergency of international concern”.
However, attempts to contain the latest outbreak initially proved difficult. In particular, militia group violence and suspicion towards foreign medical assistance hindered efforts.
The good news is, Ebola may soon be a “preventable and treatable” disease after a trial of two drugs showed significantly improved survival rates, scientists have said. Four drugs were tried on patients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a major outbreak of the virus.
The drugs, named REGN-EB3 and mAb114, work by attacking the Ebola virus with antibodies, neutralising its impact on human cells.
They are the “first drugs that, in a scientifically sound study, have clearly shown a significant diminution in mortality” for Ebola patients, said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID.
The drug mAb114 was developed using antibodies harvested from survivors of Ebola while REGN-EB3 comes from antibodies generated within mice infected with the disease. Two other treatments, called ZMapp and Remdesivir, have been dropped from trials as they were found to be less effective.
The trial, conducted by an international research group co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), began in November last year.
Since then, four experimental drugs have been tested on around 700 patients, with the preliminary results from the first 499 now known.
Of the patients given the two more effective drugs, 29% on REGN-EB3 and 34% on mAb114 died, NIAID said. In contrast, 49% on ZMapp and 53% on Remdesivir died in the study, the agency said.
The survival rate among patients with low levels of the virus in their blood was as high as 94% when they were given REGN-EB3, and 89% when on mAb114, the agency said.
The findings mean health authorities can “stress to people that more than 90% of people survive” if they are treated early, said Sabue Mulangu, an infectious-disease researcher who worked on the trial.
On Tuesday, two people cured of Ebola using the experimental drugs were released from a treatment centre in Goma, eastern DR Congo, and reunited with their families.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which co-sponsored the trial, said the results are “very good news” for the fight against Ebola. More than 90% of infected people can survive if treated early with the most effective drugs, the research showed. The drugs will now be used to treat all patients with the disease in DR Congo, according to health officials.
Meanwhile, as one of the measures put in place to prevent Ebola in the country, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has urged pilots and other airline staff to be vigilant due to the resurgence of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This was contained in a statement by NCAA’s spokesman, Sam Adurogboye. He said the resurgence of the disease forced the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in line with International Health Regulations (IHR).
Adurogboye added that the directive was contained in a letter by NCAA’s Director General, Captain Muktar Usman.
In the letter, NCAA directed airlines’ Pilots in Command (PIC) of aircraft to report to Air Traffic Control (ATC) any suspected case of communicable disease on board their flight in line with Nig. CARs 18.104.22.168 (law guiding air traffic control) are required to fill the General Declaration (Gen Dec) and Public Health Passenger Locator forms in line with Nig.CARs 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199.
“Thereafter, completed forms are to be submitted to the Port Health Services (PHS) of the destination aerodrome”, he stated.
Airlines are also to ensure they have on board valid and appropriate number of First Aid kits, Universal Precaution Kits (UPKs) and Emergency Medical kits in line with Nig.CARS 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.
Airlines are to refresh the knowledge of their Crew members (flight deck and cabin crew) for improved and sustained proficiency in handling and communication with ATC of any suspected case of communicable disease on board. In case of death to a patient, operating airlines should endeavor to contact Port Health Services for clearance before importing human remains into the country.”
“Airlines are to report to NCAA in writing any suspected case of communicable disease on board any flight. The Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) shall immediately communicate to Port Health Services (PHS) any report of a suspected case of communicable disease on board aircraft in line with Nig. CARS 220.127.116.11.
The statement further said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) expects strict compliance and will collaborate with all relevant agencies to prevent the incursion of Ebola or any communicable disease into the country.