As global concerns mount over the threat of a new Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it has commenced clinical trial against the Sudan ebolavirus—one of the six species of the Ebolavirus genus.
In a statement issued by its Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO said the first doses of candidate vaccines against the Sudan ebolavirus were expected to arrive in Uganda in the coming days,
Moeti, who addressed a press conference in Uganda accompanied by the Incident Commander, Ebola outbreak, Ministry of Health, Uganda.Lt. Col. Henry Kyobe Bossa, said WHO was boosting efforts to support the government-led response against the outbreak which has now affected nine districts, including three complex urban environments.
The statement noted that WHO’s committee of external experts had evaluated three candidate vaccines and agreed that they all be deployed to Uganda for a clinical trial against the Sudan ebolavirus—one of the six species of the Ebolavirus genus.
It explained that unlike the Zaire ebolavirus which had sparked most of the recent outbreaks, there are no approved vaccines or therapeutics for the Sudan ebolavirus.
“The aim of the randomised trial is to evaluate potentially efficacious candidate vaccines, and to possibly contribute to ending the ongoing outbreak and protect populations at risk in the future.
“The trial is the result of a collaborative effort, coordinated by WHO with developers, academic institutions, countries’ sponsoring the production of the vaccine doses, regulatory authorities, other experts and the government of Uganda,” it said.
According to WHO, supplies of one of the three candidate vaccines were expected to arrive Uganda next week and the other two soon after.
It said trial protocol had been conditionally approved by WHO and Uganda and the final approvals are expected soon.
It added that import permits for the vaccines were expected to be issued by the National Regulatory Authority soon.
While the trial start date was not certain yet, WHO said it was working with the Ministry of Health and Makerere University, which is leading the trial to make sure everything was ready and the trial would begin once one vaccine has arrived and all the trial preparations are in place.
“The two other candidates will be added, as they become available. The start of vaccine trials will mark a pivotal moment towards the development of an effective tool against the virus behind the current Ebola outbreak in Uganda,” Moeti said.
She expressed hope that the vaccines would be effective in stopping Ebola spread in the same way it helped to check previous outbreaks, Moeti however said it would take time to get trial results, adding that for now the outbreak can be controlled without vaccines.
Uganda declared an outbreak of Sudan ebolavirus on 20 September. As of 14 November 2022, there had been 141 confirmed and 22 probable cases (total of 163 cases) and 55 confirmed and 22 probable deaths (77 total deaths) reported.
Nineteen health workers have been infected with the virus and seven have died.
On 11 November, the eastern Jinja district, which hosts Jinja city, became the third urban area—after the capital of Kampala and Masaka city—to detect the virus. Jinja, located on the shores of Lake Victoria, is home to some 300 000 people. While Jinja is now impacted by Ebola, the outbreak is slowing down in six districts, with two dropping from the follow-up list as they have reported no cases in over 42 days.
“The confirmation of Ebola cases in a new district is a concern and places a further strain on the control efforts.
With their highly mobile residents and often crowded environments, cities favour the spread of the virus, but Uganda has progressively ramped up the response, keeping pace with the evolving situation.
WHO said it is working with partners to trace, find, test, care for people with the virus and work with communities.
“But with the virus constantly on the move, we must press even harder to stay ahead,” she said
Moeti also said she was concluding a three-day mission to Uganda, where she met with health authorities, key partners and visited Kassanda and Mubende districts the initial epicentre of the outbreak.
She said in support of the outbreak response WHO had deployed 80 experts and supported health authorities with the deployment of additional 150 experts, including over 60 epidemiologists. Due to the infectious nature of the Sudan ebolavirus Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which include gowns, gloves, eye protection and medical masks are critical for provision of safe care to patients.
She further said WHO recently delivered 15 000 PPE to Uganda, which are enough to protect health workers caring for patients admitted in the current Ebola treatment units for 30 days. In addition, she said the organisation has helped train nearly 1000 health workers and village health team members in contact tracing, and another
1155 health workers in infection prevention and control in health facilities.