The World Health Organization said on Friday it hopes to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine to tackle an outbreak in a remote area of Congo to prevent it spreading, particularly to the provincial capital of 1 million people.
Congo reported the outbreak on Tuesday, with 32 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease since April 4, including 18 deaths. A new suspected case was reported on Friday. [nL8N1SI3FF]
The outbreak area is 15 hours by motorbike from the closest town and has “absolutely dire” infrastructure, Salama said, so the WHO wants to send in 20-40 experts by helicopter this weekend and then clear an airstrip for more supplies.
Normally a remote setting would reduce the chance of the disease spreading. But already there are three separate locations covering 60 km (37 miles) or more, and some of the victims were healthcare workers, potentially “an amplification factor” for outbreaks, Salama said.
The local culture, with traditional healers and communal burials where there was close contact with the deceased, could cause “super-spreading” of Ebola, which kills up to 90 percent of sufferers, he said.
Salama said he spoke to Congo’s Health Minister Oly Ilunga on Thursday and hoped to get approval within days to use a vaccine developed by Merck in 2016.
Although highly effective, it is still experimental, has not been licensed, and must be kept at -60 to -80 degrees Celsius (-76°F to -112°F).
“This is a highly complicated, sophisticated operation in one of the most difficult terrains on earth,” Salama said.
It can be used to protect people who have had contact with Ebola victims, stopping the spread of disease, but that requires intensive contact tracing, which Salama said could take a week or two just for the cases already documented.
Salama also said there was no evidence of a link between the outbreak and eight deaths that occurred in January and February in the same area, which had not been confirmed as Ebola. [nL8N1SH2J4]