THE death toll from the Ebola outbreak has surged to over 2,000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday, as it expressed optimism voiced hope that a vaccine could be available by November.
The deadly virus has claimed 2,097 lives since its outbreak earlier this year in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the UN’s health organ said after a two-day crisis meeting in Geneva.
Nigeria has also recorded eight deaths out of 22 cases while at least 30 more people have died in a separate outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Results from safety trials for two prototype vaccines should be known in November, the WHO said in a statement.
“If proven safe, a vaccine could be available for use in health-care centres by November this year,” the statement added.
Earlier Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the goal of stopping the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola within six to nine months.
The “next few weeks will be crucial,” Ban said in New York, adding this was an “international rescue call.”
The meeting in Geneva brought together more than 150 experts in drug research, epidemiology, ethics, regulation and financing.
No licenced vaccine or treatment exists for Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever caused by a virus transmitted through contact with infected body fluids. However, tests carried out on animals showed promising results.
“In view of recent outbreaks, the international community is devising ways to accelerate the evaluation and use of these compounds,” the WHO said.
One possible technique is to use blood transfusions from people who have survived Ebola, in the hope that this will boost antibody defences in those who are infected.
“A blood-derived product can be used now, and it has proven to be effective in treating patients,” said WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny.
“We agreed that whole blood therapies and convalescent serums may be used to treat Ebola, and that all efforts must be invested in helping affected countries use them safely.”
The two most advanced vaccines – based on vesicular stomatitis virus and the chimpanzee adenovirus – will start in Africa and Europe in mid-September, it said.
The agency stressed it would work with all parties to test whether the vaccines are safe, and, if so, make them swiftly available.
Supplies of experimental medicines – including the prototype drug ZMapp – are limited, and “will not be sufficient for several months to come,” the agency warned.
ZMapp has been given to about 10 infected health workers, including Americans and Europeans, of whom three recovered.
The European Union released 140 million euros in aid to combat the disease, a day after the US offered an additional $75 million to buy beds and bolster treatment centres.
Dr Osee Sebatunzi, the director of Kibagabaga Hospital in Gasabo welcomed the development, saying it would end the high mortality of the victims of the disease.
“Of course discovery of a vaccine would be welcome news, for a disease that has claimed thousands of lives this year alone,” he said.
He observed that for a disease that does not only spread very fast, but also kills it’s victim in a short time if not checked, a preventive method like a vaccine would be ideal.
Phillip Majyambere, an infectious diseases specialist working with Dama Poly-clinic in Remera, said that discovery of a vaccine will help save people from the torturous signs and symptoms that come with the disease, like bleeding from all body openings such as eyes, ears, and nose; diarrhoea; head ache; and sore throat as well as the trauma that comes with isolation of the victim.
He added that it would also reduce the financial strain on the side of governments, since a lot has already been spent on awareness campaigns, setting up of special clinics and isolation wings.
pecialised clinics and quarantine areas were set up at the Kigali International Airport and at all border posts. Ebola banners were erected at the arrival terminal at KIA and more than 3,000 flyers have been distributed to all incoming passengers, especially those from parts of Africa affected by the virus.
National carrier RwandAir operates direct flights to Lagos, where an Ebola case was reported. John Mirenge, the chief executive officer of the airline, assured passengers that measures had been taken with specific surveillance being carried out regarding all flights from West Africa at Kigali International Airport.