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AHF Praises Congo Ebola Response; Calls for Wider Vaccine Distribution

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF),
the largest global AIDS organization and which lost two of its doctors
in a previous and devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014,
today welcomed the news that the World Health Organization (WHO)
declared that a more recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC) has now “largely been contained,” according to South
Africa’s ‘Southern
Times.’

The current outbreak has killed 28 individuals in the DRC since April,
with the last Ebola death there reported on June 9th.
‘Southern Times’ also reported:

“On 3 July 2018, WHO reviewed the level of public health risk
associated with the current outbreak. The latest assessment concluded
that the current Ebola virus disease outbreak has largely been
contained, considering that over 21 days (one maximum incubation period)
have elapsed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was discharged and
that contact tracing activities ended on 27 June 2018,” said WHO, in a
statement.

AHF, which sharply criticized WHO’s laggard and haphazard response to
the 2014 outbreak in Western Africa that infected over 28,000
individuals and killed more than 11,000, is offering limited praise for
the international—and WHO’s— response to the current outbreak.

“Despite the good news in containing the current Ebola outbreak in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, which we congratulate both WHO and the
international community for work well done, we are disappointed in the
lack of any clear policy on distribution of the Ebola vaccine, which
might further inoculate the country and its population from a possible
resurgence of the deadly virus,” said Michael Weinstein,
President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We also renew our call—first
made in May of this year—on WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, and Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and
Response, Dr. Peter Salama, to expedite delivery of supplies of this
vaccine to the DRC.”

In May, AHF called on the two WHO leaders to ensure that sufficient
quantities of the Ebola vaccines are available and distributed to the
Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring high-risk countries.
Frontline healthcare workers should be inoculated first, followed by the
general public, in accordance with the WHO “ring vaccination” protocol.

“Right now, we thankfully have a break in the infections and deaths, but
we could easily run the risk of revisiting the devastation the virus
brought to West Africa in 2014,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor, MD,
MSc ID, Africa Bureau Chief for AHF. “The previous outbreak claimed the
lives of over 11,000 people in West Africa—in recent months 28 people
died of the same strain of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Unless the global public health community continues to act quickly—now,
with distribution of the vaccine—we could well soon witness the
beginning of a new outbreak.”

AHF contributed personnel and supplies during the 2014 outbreak. One of
AHF’s clinicians, Dr.
Sheik Humarr Khan lost his life fighting to save Ebola patients in
his native Sierra Leone, where he was the country’s only
virologist. In addition, Dr.
John Taban Dada, a consulting physician for AHF’s partner
organization in Liberia, People Associated for People’s Assistance
(PAPA) lost his life to Ebola in October 2014. Now that there is an
effective vaccine, the world has a moral obligation to do everything in
its power to protect public health first responders from Ebola.

“WHO, in partnership with the DRC government, needs to urgently step up
the pace of vaccinations and create a cache of vaccines so that they are
readily available in large enough quantities to achieve the widest
possible inoculation coverage,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra,
Executive Director of the Global Public Health Institute at University
of Miami, and former head of Mexico’s CENSIDA. “Sufficient
transportation and staff should be made available for the distribution
of the vaccine, particularly in to hard-to-reach areas.”

AHF’s Weinstein added, “We applaud Merck Pharmaceuticals for donating
doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, but the pharmaceutical industry can and
should do more. The danger of Ebola and other fast-spreading,
life-threatening infectious diseases should warrant expedited licensing
and sharing of intellectual property between companies. This would
ensure development of the most effective vaccine possible, while also
allowing for increased mass production capabilities.”

Dr. Saavedra concluded, “AHF understands that the vaccine is
experimental and needs the necessary protocols and regulations to ensure
that the vaccine is safely and in accordance with appropriate protocols
for mass distribution of a still experimental product. I think it is
necessary to insist that in addition to distributing it quickly to save
lives, it should be done in a way that allows collection of data in an
ethical manner and according to the appropriate protocols, so that we do
not miss the opportunity to know if this is a safe and effective product
that could be used to prevent future outbreaks or to vaccinate
immediately if there are other outbreaks. The global health community
cannot afford to hesitate on Ebola this time around. History has shown
that ineffectual leadership during a global public health emergency can
have disastrous consequences, which are now entirely avoidable. We renew
our call on Dr. Tedros, Dr. Salama and the staff of WHO and DRC
regulatory authorities to always be properly trained to take any and all
proper measures to ensure Ebola is contained and eliminated in the DRC
and neighboring countries.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS
organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over
950,000 individuals in 41 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin
America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn
more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org,
find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth
and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare
and Instagram: @aidshealthcare

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