WHO medical experts meet in Geneva over Ebola outbreak

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 06 Agustus 2014 | 08.20

LONDON: Top medical experts of the World Health Organisation are meeting in Geneva over two days to decide whether to declare the Ebola outbreak a global health emergency.

The meeting over Wednesday and Thursday will also discuss new measures to tackle the outbreak.

If a public health emergency is declared, it would include plans and efforts to identify, isolate and treat cases besides imposing travel restrictions on affected areas.

Chaired by Dr Sam Zaramba, former director general of health services or Uganda and co-chaired by professor Robert Steffen from WHO Collaborating Centre for Travellers' Health, University of Zurich, the meeting also includes top experts from Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Africa, US and France.

Dr Amara Jambai who is the director of Disease Prevention and Control is representing one of the worst affected countries - Sierra Leone. Experts from Chile, UK and Canada are also attending the meeting.

Interestingly, Dr Anthony Evans who is the chief of Aviation Medicine Section at International Civil Aviation Organization is also there to decide whether travel bans need to be imposed on affected countries.

On Wednesday, a man suspected to have contracted Ebola died in Saudi Arabia. If confirmed, this will be the first Ebola-related death outside of Africa.

The virus has already killed nearly 900 people since February in West Africa. The outbreak began in February in Guinea, and has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Two US aid workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia appear to be improving after receiving an unapproved medicine called ZMapp. The drug has been tested on monkeys.

Meanwhile, professor Peter Piot, who discovered Ebola in 1976 said Africans must be given access to the drug being used in the US.

He said "A virologist carrying out mouse experiments in a lab in Hamburg five years ago accidentally pricked her finger. The syringe contained the Zaire Ebola virus, the same strain wreaking havoc today in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There is no approved treatment or vaccine for Ebola, or even one that has passed the first phase of safety trials in human volunteers. Yet unlike those exposed to Ebola in West Africa recently, the Hamburg virologist was quickly offered an experimental vaccine. This vaccine hadn't yet been tested on humans, but it had been shown to offer primates some protection against Ebola infections. For the virologist, it wasn't a good option, but it was the only one available in the face of a virus with an extremely high mortality rate. She chose to take the vaccine.''

"The Hamburg researcher didn't fall ill. It is unclear exactly how the vaccine worked, or indeed whether she was ever infected. What is important is that immediate access to an experimental vaccine allowed her to try something with the potential to protect her. It is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public-health authorities would give at-risk patients access to experimental drugs or vaccines. Indeed, there are reports that two U.S. relief workers infected with Ebola in Liberia have been offered experimental therapies, which they have accepted.''

There are antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines under study that have shown varying degrees of effectiveness in animals that have been infected with or exposed to the Ebola virus. Medical agencies in rich counties affected by Ebola would begin discussions with companies and labs developing these products and then make rapid decisions about which of them might be appropriate for compassionate use.

"The African countries where the current outbreaks of Ebola are occurring should have the same opportunity. African governments should be allowed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use these products, for example to protect and treat health-care workers who run especially high risks of infection. The World Health Organization could assist African countries with developing rigorous protocols for the use and study of experimental approaches to treatment and prevention, while coordinating more traditional containment measures. As the only body with the necessary international authority, it must take on this greater leadership role," professor Piot said.

Professor Piot has warned that the epidemic is now so extensive that "we can expect it to last for some months yet.''

Meanwhile, the World Bank is allocating $200 million in emergency assistance for countries battling to contain Ebola.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/followceleb.cms?alias=World Bank,WHO,global health emergency,Ebola

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