Recently, the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free and from available records, there are just seven confirmed cases of Ebola in Guinea and two in Sierra Leone indicating that a move toward zero cases in West Africa is approaching. However, experts in a meeting at Geneva decided that there should be a roadmap for accelerating research and development into new medical products to fight Ebola and other epidemic-prone diseases. Present at the meeting were scientists, industry representatives and public health officials who suggested that the situation cannot continue this way. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General said that the world was totally unprepared to deal with epidemics of SARS and H1N1 bird flu and to correct this, participants are working a new structure to accelerate research and development for diseases that could become epidemics and other health threats.
Kieny was quoted saying, "If something like Ebola ever happened again to this level, the world needs to be ready with a blueprint, an R&D preparedness plan, with clear rules, platform for information sharing, established processes to expedite development and clinical trials, to activate coordinated action and limit the damage." She further noted that for certain diseases, the development of medical products should be stated before a potential outbreak. The speed with which new tools for Ebola were developed and clinical trials for vaccines and drugs were set up in less than 10 minutes instead of the normal five to ten years indicates the world can react more quickly than in the past to combat spreading diseases. According to her, there are now two commercial diagnostics to detect Ebola and at least two possibly effective vaccines, however, the window of opportunity for testing is closing and as Ebola wanes, there may not be enough cases to continue testing the vaccines and several candidate drugs.
Ebola outbreak have claimed more than 11,000 lives in West Africa within a short period of time. I believe such framework agreed upon at the meeting to tackle emerging deadly diseases is a way forward to reduce the mortality rates of these diseases in case an outbreak occurs. Ebola caught us unaware and it claimed so many lives.
Original text was written by Lisa Schlein, Voice of America.