As Ebola response accelerates, UN health agency prepares for arrival of trial vaccines

In early October 2014, with the help of the US Navy, a new mobile laboratory opened at Island Clinic, one of the WHO-supported Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: WHO/R. Sørenson

21 October 2014 – Amid positive developments in the global fight against Ebola, including a growing response to the Secretary-General’s appeals for the more funding to tackle the outbreak, the United Nations health agency today announced the expected delivery of Ebola candidate vaccines, as the UN system continues to ramps up efforts to quell the spread of the deadly virus.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman, Fadéla Chaib, told a press briefing in Geneva earlier today that the agency is expecting the arrival of a Canadian shipment of Ebola candidate vaccines to arrive in Geneva on 22 October where they would be kept refrigerated at the city’s Cantonal Hospital.

The delivery of the vaccines is the next step in a process initiated by the WHO in late September when it organized an expert consultation featuring more than 70 experts to assess the status of work to test and eventually license two candidate Ebola vaccines.

“The overarching objective was to take stock of the many efforts currently under way to rapidly evaluate Ebola vaccines for safety and efficacy. The next step is to make these vaccines available as soon as possible – and in sufficient quantities – to protect critical frontline workers and to make a difference in the epidemic’s future evolution,” the WHO explained in a statement which added that the “ultimate goal” was to have “a fully tested and licensed product that can be scaled up for use in mass vaccination campaigns.”

The announcement of the arrival of the candidate vaccines follows the UN agency’s recent confirmation that both Nigeria and Senegal are now free of Ebola virus transmission, after 42 days without a single case – a fact the WHO celebrated as “a spectacular success story.”

Nevertheless, Ms. Chaib stated that the three remaining affected countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – were “certainly underreporting” the scope of their epidemics, but that it remained “impossible to tell to which degree.”

Responding to questions from reporters, the spokesperson also acknowledged “perceptions of delays” in the WHO’s response, adding that the agency would conduct “in due time a thorough review of its response.” Right now, she continued, the focus remained on fighting the disease and minimizing its impact on the West African population.

Also addressing the press briefing was a spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Christophe Boulierac, who drew renewed attention to the plight of Ebola survivors who struggle with stigmatization, isolation and psycho-social stress despite overcoming the disease.

Mr. Boulierac explained that even though Ebola survivors were no longer contagious and had developed immunity from the virus, many were kept at a distance by their communities, noting that in one instance the daughter of a survivor was not allowed to play with children.

The spokesperson told journalists that despite the stigma, a UNICEF-backed centre in Liberia had identified and trained 20 survivors to help at care centres throughout the country.

The fact that the survivors are no longer afraid of catching the virus and the fact that they had overcome their own sufferings and could relate to the current patients placed them in a unique position to provide care, especially to children, concluded Mr. Boulierac.

Meanwhile, in a statement released by the UN spokesperson in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the uptick in the financing of the Ebola Multi-Partner Trust Fund which forms part of the monetary groundwork for the global Ebola response as well as the wider UN response.

The Secretary-General established the Fund to provide “a flexible, accountable, strategic and transparent platform to finance critical unfunded priorities and help reduce the rate of Ebola transmission,” the statement said, explaining that it would help provide a range of materials, including trained medical personnel, mobile laboratories, vehicles, helicopters, protective equipment, and medevac capacities.

Mr. Ban noted that the total amount of commitments and pledges now stood at $50 million and urged all countries who had already contributed “to consider what more they can do, and those who have yet to contribute to do so as a matter of urgency.” The Organization had initially set the target of $100 million to be reached by the end of October.

“Ebola is a major global problem that demands a massive and immediate global response,” he added.


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