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
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trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.