Ebola Expert Calls for Vigilance Amid Outbreaks

With the Ebola virus flaring in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a new outbreak in Guinea, Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum is worried.“This is a great concern for us, especially since the COVID and Ebola crises are occurring” simultaneously, said Muyembe, who manages DRC’s National Institute of Biomedical Research and is coordinating his country’s responses to both infectious diseases.A renowned expert on the Ebola virus, the 78-year-old microbiologist sees it as a more urgent threat than COVID-19 in his country. Meanwhile, the pandemic’s official Locations of current Ebola virus disease outbreaks in Guinea and DRC as of Feb. 22, 2021In past Ebola outbreaks, anywhere from 25% to 90% of infected people died, the World Health Organization reports. By comparison, the overall mortality risk of COVID-19, a respiratory disease, is 1% or less, but rises with age and risk factors, according toThe Congolese government’s Ebola response coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, visits a new Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 6, 2019. (Reuters)New tools to combat EbolaSome positive developments in Ebola prevention and treatment emerged, Muyembe noted, citing vaccines and drug therapies.“We have the tools to vaccinate and to treat the sick. Thus, we break the chain of transmission, and the virus can go back into the forest,” he said.In late 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ervebo, a one-shot vaccine. Last July, the European Union approved Zabdeno, with a two-dose regimen.Gains also have been made in treatment. Late last year, the FDA approved two therapies for treating Ebola infections: the antibody cocktail Inmazeb and the human monoclonal antibody Ebanga. The DRC institute worked with the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop the latter, Muyembe said, noting that his team revisited promising research that Western partners had asked them to set aside more than a decade ago.The institute has sent some of the treatment to North Kivu, Muyembe said, and “we will also send some shipments to Guinea to treat the sick. This is something we can do in the framework of African solidarity to help our friends in Guinea.”He added that Congolese health experts also would be sent there.Distribution of the Ebola vaccine is targeted, not widespread, as is planned for COVID-19 vaccines. In part, that is because Ebola spreads through direct contact; COVID can spread from an infected person through droplets that hang in the air and are harder to avoid.“If you’re spending money manufacturing vaccine and getting it into the arms of every person in a given country, that’s money that’s not being spent on something else that’s way more common, like (the) measles vaccine, or even other non-health-related issues,” Tiffany Harris, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told VOA. Raising awarenessMuyembe made a point of getting a shot in front of news cameras as soon as the Ebola vaccine was available. He will do the same with a COVID-19 vaccine, he said, to bolster public awareness and to allay suspicions of a Western ploy to sterilize or otherwise harm Africans.Misinformation is “amplified here in Africa,” Muyembe said. “It is up to us to convey the true messages of peace and security” to get people “to accept the COVID vaccine. But it’s not easy.”Health authorities have ramped up public awareness campaigns in Ebola-affected areas, joining much broader COVID-19 awareness campaigns on radio, social media and other platforms throughout Africa.“You can end an epidemic, but you cannot end the virus,” Muyembe said of Ebola. “… It can come back, so we have to be vigilant.”Adam Phillips of VOA’s English to Africa Service contributed to this report.    Photos uploaded to Voltron:DRCONGO-HEALTH-EBOLA-VACCINATION (AFP 000_1MH6OU)Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum gets inoculated with an Ebola vaccine November 22, 2019, in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (AFP) (Ebola-Muyembe-Reuters)Congolese government’s Ebola response coordinator Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum visits the new MSF (Doctors Without Borders) Ebola treatment center in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner Map:Suggested revised text for caption:      – Instead of: Current EVD outbreaks in Guinea and DRC     – Suggested revise: Locations of current Ebola virus disease outbreaks in Guinea and DRC as of Feb. 22, 2021  On the map itself, can we replace Katwa either with North Kivu or say Katwa, North Kivu    

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