Ebola crisis: Drug breakthrough ‘promising’ but expert warns of ‘dreadful’ danger
The haemorrhagic fever causes bleeding, severe vomiting and diarrhoea and spreads through close contact with bodily fluids. The average fatality rate is about 50 percent. The experimental drugs revealed this week will “absolutely not” cure all Ebola patients, despite showing a survival rates of as much as 90 percent in a clinical trial DR Congo, immunologist Yves Lévy, a special envoy in charge of the French Ebola response, told France Info radio. He said: “The new treatments are promising, but we’re dealing with a dreadful disease, one with a mortality rate of nearly 90 percent among children and pregnant women.”
The new drugs mark an “interesting and important breakthrough” in the fight against Ebola, he continued, “but we must continue to be cautious, because the clinical trial is ongoing”.
The two prototype drugs – an antibody cocktail called REGN-EB3 and a monoclonal antibody called mAb114 – will be offered to all Ebola patients in DR Congo’s year-long outbreak, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said earlier on Tuesday.
The drugs are antibodies that block Ebola, but more study is needed to pin down exactly how well the two compounds work, US researchers said.
The Congolese government’s Ebola response coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said the trial’s positive results meant that “we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” adding the drugs would “help save thousands of lives.”
“Ebola is dangerous but it is also curable with the correct treatment,” he told a press conference in Congolese city of Goma. The disease “kills quickly” but it also “heals quickly,” he added.
Mr Muyembe was reacting to an earlier report that two Ebola patients who were treated with the new drugs in Goma had been declared “cured” and had returned home.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the current outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” two weeks ago, amid fears the deadly virus could take root in Goma, a transit hub of nearly 2 million people that borders Rwanda.
But Mr Lévy struck a more reserved tone, saying that the drugs were most efficient in the early stages of the disease.
“For patients who are in the later stages of the disease, no treatment is efficient,” he warned, adding that widespread “reluctance” to seek treatment in specialised clinics was hampering efforts to contain the virus.
His warning chimed with comments made earlier in the day by the head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, who also said the new drugs would not be enough on their own to end the epidemic.
“The news today is fantastic. It gives us a new tool in our toolbox against Ebola, but it will not in itself stop Ebola,” Mike Ryan told reporters.
The haemorrhagic fever has been spreading in violence-ravaged eastern Congo since 2018, in an outbreak that has already killed more than 1,800 people.
Health officials have vaccinated tens of thousands of people in an attempt to stop the epidemic, but response efforts have repeatedly been thwarted by militia violence and deep mistrust among local communities.
Many people believe the virus is a hoax and shun treatment when they fall ill, infecting those who care for them.
The outbreak is the second deadliest on record after the 2013-2016 West African epidemic, which killed more than 11,300 people after it spread through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ebola causes fever, flu-like pains, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea and spreads through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. It is a severe, often fatal disease.
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