MS Risk Blog

WHO Warns that Next Ebola Outbreak is “Inevitable” but World is Better Prepared

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Earlier this month, the head of the World Health Organization disclosed that a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is “inevitable,” noting however that a new vaccine, coupled with rapid-response measures, mean that it will be more effectively contained.

Speaking at an event in the Guinean capital Conakry this month, dedicated to individuals who fought to control the disease in their communities, WHO chief Margaret Chan thanked the Guinean government for its role in developing the vaccine, which was announced in December 2016, but added a note of caution. Speaking to an audience of scientists, Ebola response coordinators and dignitaries, Chad warned that “scientists do not yet know exactly where in nature the Ebola virus hides between outbreaks, but nearly all experts agree that another outbreak is inevitable,” adding that “when this occurred, the world will be far better prepared.”

In a major clinical trial using an innovative “ring,” or group method, nearly 6,000 people in Guinea were given the test vaccine in 2015, during which not one of them contracted the disease. Chan disclosed last week that even with an “initially limited” first batch of the vaccine, health authorities had another option in their arsenal “beyond isolation and quarantine.”

The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since then, it has erupted periodically in outbreaks of up to a couple of hundred cases, mainly across western and eastern Africa. The most deadliest outbreak of the virus occurred in early 2014, when a handful of infections in southern Guinea mushroomed rapidly into an epidemic.   Officials have disclosed that that outbreak began with a child in December 2013. It would go on to kill at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and left thousands more survivors with long-term health problems. At the time, the WHO was criticized for its slow response and for failing to grasp the gravity of the outbreak.

Chan also emphasized that anther positive outcome of the Ebola crisis was renewed focus and funding for vaccines against other contagious diseases, including the fatal Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as well as the Lassa and Nipah viruses.