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DAKAR, May 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The lessons learned from the world's worst Ebola epidemic and progress made in developing vaccines mean future outbreaks should be far less damaging, health experts said on Thursday.
Presidents and ministers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone gathered in Conakry to celebrate those who had helped to contain West Africa's 2013-2016 epidemic, as well as the scientists who worked on vaccines against the deadly virus.
The outbreak, which was declared over last year by the World Health Organization (WHO), killed more than 11,300 people and infected some 28,600 as it swept through the three countries.
Overhauled and improved health protocols and facilities in the Ebola-hit nations, greater vigilance, and promising trials for two vaccines mean the world should be much better prepared for any future outbreaks, said Marie-Paule Kieny of the WHO.
"It is important to take stock of the successes and also failures of the Ebola response to avoid complacency," the WHO assistant director-general told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the event in Guinea's capital.
"One of the most impressive aspects was the fact that quality research was conducted during the epidemic in Guinea, with the vaccine trial (for Merck's rVSV-EBOV shot)," she added.
The Merck vaccine was the first to prove effective in preventing human infection, in a large trial in Guinea in 2015. Among 5,837 people, no Ebola cases were recorded 10 days or more after vaccination, showing 100 percent protection.
Another vaccine, a two-part shot from Johnson & Johnson and Danish partner Bavarian Nordic, induced a durable immune response lasting a year in 100 percent of healthy volunteers vaccinated, researchers reported in March.
While debate rages over the best vaccination strategy for different groups at risk of Ebola, health experts have hailed the importance of having more than one type of vaccine.
"That we now have one vaccine candidate which has been demonstrated to be safe and highly effective and the possibility of other Ebola vaccines is an enormous achievement," said John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"It will not only change the way that we control future Ebola outbreaks, but has shown how we might go about developing vaccines for similar epidemic-prone diseases," added Edmunds, a professor of infectious disease modelling at the school. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)