The findings should encourage more people to seek care rapidly, says the World Health Organisation. 

Health authorities in DR Congo said on August 12th that two experimental drugs being used in a clinical trial to control the spread of Ebola appear to be saving lives, Deutsche Welle reported.

The drugs – developed from antibodies from survivors that had been infected with Ebola – showed “clearly better” results in patients taking part in the trial, which is being conducted during the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak in DR Congo.

The trials of ‘REGN-EB3’ (Regeneron) and ‘mAb114’ (US National Institute of Health, NIH) were considered successful. Both improved survival rates from Ebola more than the two other products being tested – ZMapp and Remdesivir – which have now been dropped, according to Anthony Fauci, one of the trial researchers.

Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the results were “very good news” for the fight against Ebola.

“What this means is that we do now have what look like [two] treatments for a disease for which not long ago we really had no approach at all.”

In the study, fewer people died among those given the Regeneron drug or the NIH’s – about 30% compared to half who received ZMapp. More striking, when patients sought care early – before too much virus was in their bloodstream – mortality was just 6% with the Regeneron drug and 11% with the NIH compound, compared to about 24% for ZMapp, Fauci said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the findings should encourage more people to seek care rapidly, even as further study continues.

Ebola 1995Scientists testing samples from animals collected in DR Congo for the Ebola virus. Image: CC 1995

At least 1,800 people have been killed by the deadly virus since the outbreak began in DR Congo in August 2018. Between 2013 and 2016, Ebola infected around 28,000 people in West Africa, killing an estimated 11,300 in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Tshisekedi takes over

Until recently the Ebola response was coordinated by DR Congo’s minister of health. But in July, President Félix Tshisekedi announced that he would take over this function and appointed Ebola pioneer Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe to lead the efforts.

The decision was strategic and significant and is likely to galvanise national and international support, writes Mosoka Fallah for The Conversation.

President Tshisekedi’s direct involvement can help DR Congo overcome some of the biggest obstacles to ending this outbreak.

First, as the president, he can rally citizens who have previously doubted the reality of the outbreak and mobilise provincial leaders to become active in the response.

Second, he can increase security. The epicentre of the current outbreak is North Kivu, a region marred by ongoing violent conflict. Ebola treatment centres have been destroyed and a doctor was killed in April.

Third, he can put fresh efforts into global response. Only 50% of financial support needed for the response has been provided. There has already been a shift in the international response since Tshisekedi took over the Ebola response. The World Bank committed $300m just days after the announcement.

Tshisekedi can take advantage of the fact that WHO recently declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. This is a defining moment for DR Congo and the president. He needs to take the response to the people, use his regional and international political capital to build security and mobilise resources to rapidly end the outbreak.

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Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

DR Congo: Islamist Groups Align
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 56, Issue 5 – June 2019

Ebola: DR Congo
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 56, Issue 3 – Apr 2019

DR Congo: Disputed Presidential Election
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 56, Issue 1 – Feb 2019

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