The current outbreak of Ebola in the DRC is entering its second year and is now the second biggest outbreak with 2,800 cases. The good news is that there’s finally hope for a cure.
Two out of four drugs trialed at four treatment centers in Beni, Katwa, Butembo and Magina with the worst outbreaks have dramatically increased survival rates.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and co-sponsor, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (US NIAID), two monoclonal antibody drugs made by Regeneron and Ridgeback produced much better results than Zmapp (used in the 2014-16 epidemic) and Remdesiver.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the US NIAID, explained the overall mortality of those who were given ZMapp in the trial was 49% and 53% given Remdesivir.
In comparison, a monoclonal antibody drug made by Regeneron had the lowest overall death rate at 29%, while monoclonal antibody 114 made by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics had a mortality rate of 34%.
For those were treated soon after becoming ill, the mortality rate for those given Zmapp was 24%; Remdesivir 33%; Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody 6% and the drug made by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics 11%.
Prof. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the Institute National de Recherche Biomédicale in DRC, who oversaw the trial and spoke of its success, saying, ‘’From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable. These advances will help save thousands of lives.’’
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) August 14, 2019
The biggest challenge has been the reluctance of those contracting the decease to seek treatment, resulting in a mortality rate as high as 70 percent. Muyembe explained that when people saw family members go into an Ebola treatment center and come out dead they believed the doctors had killed them. He believes the new research will encourage more people to get help when they see 90 percent of people going for treatment going home completely cured.
Dr. Michael Ryan from the WHO said those who fall ill often stay at home for an average of four days before getting to a treatment center, this not only reduces their chances of survival but makes it more likely for the virus to be transmitted to their families.
According to the WHO, the disease is spread through blood and body fluids, or contaminated objects. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are believed to be natural Ebola virus hosts and passed the virus to humans through contact of bodily fluids of infected animals.
The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa was the largest since the virus was first discovered in 1976. The second largest outbreak in history occurred in June 2018 in the DRC and Uganda, killing 1,400 people to date.
Fauci paid tribute to those involved in the trial, saying NGO’s including International Medical Corps and Médecins Sans Frontières ‘put their lives on the line every day to care for patients in extremely difficult conditions in the area where the outbreak is occurring’.
To avoid contamination, patients are isolated and medical staff must wear protective suits when treating patients.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome and the co-chair of the WHO Ebola therapeutics group, said, ‘’The more we learn about these two treatments, and how they can complement the public health response, including contact tracing and vaccination, the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable.
We won’t ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics.’’
As the four-drug trial ended, the next phase begins to directly compare the two monoclonal antibody drugs.
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