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13 Aug 2019

Scientists have announced two new experimental treatments for Ebola that they say will significantly help contain the outbreak of the deadly disease in eastern Congo.

In fact, reports are going so far as to say that Ebola should no longer be regarded as incurable.

The Washington Post reports that the drugs have been tested in a nearly nine-month clinical trial and have performed so well that health professionals will now administer them to every patient in Congo.

Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, a Congolese doctor who has spent his career researching Ebola treatments and oversaw the trial on the ground, told a news conference that he could not have imagined such a day would come.

“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” he said.

And the Washington Post quotes Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying:  “It’s the first example that a therapeutic intervention can have a dramatic effect on decreasing the mortality of the Ebola virus disease.”

He said medical professionals on the ground in Congo have sufficient stores of both drugs to administer them to all infected people.

“This underscores the importance of doing randomised, controlled trials. You can get ethically sound and scientifically sound information rapidly,” he said.

According to the Post report, the two new therapies were tested in a multi-drug, controlled trial since November last year. Researchers administered one of four drugs to patients who had participated in the study, and when a monitoring group they noticed that two of those drugs were vastly outperforming the others.

The scientists then called off the study to  exclusively treat Ebola patients with the more effective drugs.

The two antibody-based treatments are known as REGN-EB3 and mAb-114 and are administered once intravenously as soon as possible after infection. The drugs are proving to be effective because they appear to block a protein critical to the Ebola virus.

Preliminary data from the trial shows doctors saving about 90 per cent of patients with low levels of infection. Across all levels of infection, patients who received REGN-EB3 had a mortality rate of 29 per cent, while those treated with mAb-114 had a mortality rate of 34 per cent, the Post reports.

The average mortality rate for Ebola has been about 50 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation. All Ebola patients will now receive one of the two more effective drugs.

The vital next step, however, is to overcome the suspicion of health workers in Ebola affected regions. Violence continues to mar the efforts of vaccination providers trying to contain the spread of Ebola, as political unrest, armed conflict, and social upheaval spreads across eastern Congo. More than 200 health professionals have been attacked since January this year, with several being killed.

“The success is clear, but there is also a tragedy linked to this success, and the tragedy is that not enough people are being treated,” said Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

“We are still seeing too many people stay away from Ebola treatment units, too many people not coming to hospitals are not being found in time to benefit from these therapies.”


Published: 13 Aug 2019