WHO calls emergency meeting over Ebola outbreak in Uganda

Health workers fumigate the isolation centre at Mubende Regional Hospital on September 22, 2022. PHOTO/BARBRA NALWEYISO

What you need to know:

  • Ebola is transmitted through contact with the blood, stool or fluids of an infected person 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened an emergency meeting over the Ebola situation in Uganda as cases rise amid fear that the disease could spread to neighbouring countries. 

Speaking at an online media briefing yesterday, Dr Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, the WHO head of the Research and Development Unit, said they would meet today with developers of candidate vaccines for the Sudan ebola which triggered an outbreak in Uganda.

There is no approved vaccine for the strain, a shortfall which increases the risk of disease spread and dangers to health workers involved in the response.

“There are three candidate vaccines that we are considering [for Sudan ebola]. To determine the clinical efficacy of the candidate vaccines, you need to conduct clinical trials on a large number of people,” Dr Maria said.

She added: “But the vaccine is not the only way out of the outbreak. We need to employ all strategies in place to prevent the spread of the disease.”

The WHO experts blamed the delay in availing the vaccine for Sudan ebola on the limited number of patients required to test the vaccine.

“People have worked for years to develop different types of vaccines. But the number of outbreaks and number of infected people have been low and that affects research and clinical trials,” said Prof César Muñoz-Fontela, one of the experts.

Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), said there is no evidence that the vaccine for the Zaire ebola protects a patient against the Sudan strain.

“There is one vaccine developed by Merck Company (an American pharmaceutical firm) which was tested in West Africa in the ring study and was found to be effective against Zaire ebola but nobody has tested it to see its effectiveness against the Sudan ebola,” Prof Kaleebu said.

He added: “The vaccine is composed of parts of Zaire ebolavirus. So it could work against Sudan ebola but nobody knows. Somebody needs to do a study and find out.”

According to the expert, there is a new vaccine developed by Johnson and Johnson that targets all strains, the Sudan strain included.

“It targets Zaire ebolavirus, Sudan ebolavirus and Marburg. But there is no large study that has been done to find out its effectiveness on human beings,” the UVRI boss, who has been in the response to combat past Ebola outbreaks, said.

The government confirmed the outbreak of Ebola in Mubende on Tuesday. Since then, a total of seven confirmed eight deaths (1 confirmed and 7 probable), have been reported by the Health ministry.

Dr Henry Kyobe, an epidemiologist at the Health ministry, who is coordinating the response to the Ebola outbreak, said there is no approved drug for the disease. “But there are trial drugs using the monoclonal antibody technology. Largely, the treatment is mainly on supportive care. This strain has no vaccine and for now, the plan for the vaccine is not on the table but it is being considered as soon as we have some,” he said.

He added: “For now we are concentrating on making sure we inform the population about what it is, guiding them on the measures to be able to protect, guiding them to show us where contacts are –identify them to be able to get patients early in care.”

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