We begin with the latest numbers, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
From Reuters, an enigmatic controversy:
Scientists ask if Ebola immunises as well as kills
A recent sharp drop in new Ebola infections in West Africa is prompting scientists to wonder whether the virus may be silently immunising some people at the same time as brutally killing their neighbours.
So-called “asymptomatic” Ebola cases – in which someone is exposed to the virus, develops antibodies, but doesn’t get sick or suffer symptoms – are hotly disputed among scientists, with some saying their existence is little more than a pipe dream.
Yet if, as some studies suggest, such cases do occur in epidemics of the deadly disease, they may be a key factor in ending outbreaks more swiftly by giving secret protection to those lucky enough to be able to bat the infection away.
“We wonder whether ‘herd immunity’ is secretly coming up – when you get a critical mass of people who are protected, because if they are asymptomatic they are then immune,” Philippe Maughan, senior operations administrator for the humanitarian branch of the European Commission, told Reuters. “The virus may be bumping into people it can’t infect any more.”
Next, from the U.N.’s Global Ebola Response:
UN Stresses Need for Ebola Surveillance in Border Towns
Representatives of the Governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire today began meeting in Freetown, under the umbrella of the Mano River Union, a sub-regional political grouping comprising the four countries, to agree on methods to control and prevent disease outbreaks in the border areas.
The United Nations supports the initiative, according to Amadu Kamara, Crisis Manager for the UN Mission Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Sierra Leone. Kamara told the gathering that included Ebola Response administrators, medical officers, technical and operational planning experts from all four countries that Ebola could not be defeated without “addressing its regional dimensions.” The virus should be seen as “one epidemic with many fronts,” he said.
Dubbed the “Sub-regional Ebola Technical Meeting on Border Surveillance and Disease Control,” participants hope to formulate guidelines that will regulate how patients, corpses and laboratory samples are transferred across borders. Such guidelines will also focus on cross-border surveillance conduct and contact tracing.
There is a UN mandate to support “efforts to rationalize resources, provide the strategic framework for a regional approach, as well as to ensure that our borders do not make it easy for the disease to escape,” stressed Kamara. Currently, he said: “We have moved from a phase where we were being hounded and hunted to a stage where we are now hunting Ebola.” Recent figures by the World Health Organization show that transmission rates are declining in all three countries.
From IRIN, the quest continues:
Ebolanomics – the search for a vaccine
When Ebola hit West Africa last year, it was a disease with no sign of a vaccine or cure. To those affected that may have been an indication that the wider world didn’t care about them or the diseases that affected them, but in truth there has simply been no incentive for anyone to develop these therapies. Yet now pharmaceutical companies are racing to produce an effective vaccine, and on 23 January the British company GlaxoSmithKline shipped the first 300 doses of its candidate to Liberia to start phase II trials.
At an event in the UK Houses of Parliament to discuss the economics of developing such vaccines, Jon Pender, a vice president of GSK, said he had been surprised, in the circumstances, that companies had any possible candidates at all on their shelves which could be developed and tested. He challenged suggestions that this was just because Ebola epidemics happened in poor countries where there was little scope for profit.
“That isn’t the reason why we don’t have vaccines for Ebola. The reason we don’t have a vaccine is because it wasn’t a priority for anyone, and there are understandable reasons for that…. The number of people affected each year was very small and the overall disease burden, in comparison to other disease like malaria or HIV, is tiny. The fact is that in the forty years that we have known about Ebola, including the present outbreak, there have been about 24,000 known cases. There are that many cases of malaria every hour.”
Now, clearly, it has become a priority. So if it isn’t just about money, how do you persuade the pharmaceutical industry to work on a normally obscure disease like Ebola? Adrian Thomas is a vice-president at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, which is also now working to get an Ebola vaccine to market. He says, “The first question is, what is the strength of the science? The second thing is to what extent there is a reward for innovation or a willingness to risk-share. And the third is, will we actually reach people? I think we have to understand what are the clear priorities for global health…
On to Liberia, first with Voice of America:
Official: Liberia Entering Last Lap in Ebola Crisis
A senior Liberian official says most of his country is Ebola-free and he is optimistic that cases of Ebola can be brought down to zero in a matter of weeks.
Ebola cases in Liberia have declined from a peak of more than 300 a week in August to fewer than 10 per week in January.
Liberia’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Axel Addy, said Monday that 13 of 15 counties now are reporting zero cases of Ebola for 21 days, the period of incubation for the disease.
He said only about 31 patients currently are being treated nationwide in ETUs, or emergency treatment units. He said the dramatic drop in the number of people falling ill from the virus is giving rise to hopes that this menace is nearing its end.
“We think we can make it to zero by end of February [at] the latest. We are very close to that. The border towns are being monitored very closely with Sierra Leone and Guinea and we are working with the teams in those countries to make sure that the cases in those areas do not spread beyond the borders,” said Addy.
The exception, via the Liberia News Agency:
Montserrado ‘Active Transporter Of Ebola’ – Nyenswah
Montserrado County is the only place in Liberia that is now the “active place of the transport of the Ebola virus,” the head of the Incident Management Team (IMT), Tolbert Nyenswah, has disclosed.
He said the fact that 13 counties have reported no new cases recently shows “there is a drastic reduction in new Ebola cases in the country,” the Liberia News Agency reports.
Nyenswah made the disclosure when he addressed the MICAT regular Ebola press briefing at the ministry Tuesday.
From the Liberian Observer, winding down:
CAAE-Ebola Massive Awareness Campaign Ends in Lofa
- Leadership Sends SOS for Post-Ebola Challenges, Awareness
A massive awareness and sensitization campaign against the deadly Ebola virus under the banner of Citizens Action Against Ebola (CAAE) has ended in seven administrative districts in Lofa County.
However, initial preparations for the Ebola virus awareness and sensitization activities were characterized by some serious challenges and constraints that ranged from financial and logistical constraints in Monrovia and the various districts of Lofa County.
The Ebola virus awareness and sensitization initiatives were carried out during the height of the medical crisis for almost six weeks by volunteers of the CAAE’s leadership in Lofa County.
From IOL News, shutting down:
Ebola: Liberia closes clinic
Liberia’s president on Monday announced the closure of an Ebola treatment facility which lay at the epicentre of the virus’s worst outbreak in history, as the disease’s spread has slowed in the country.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned Liberians that while they could not yet afford to relax, the country had made significant progress in the fight against Ebola, and thanked states who helped Monrovia combat the virus.
“Lofa, the epicentre of the virus, has had no new cases for over 70 days,” she said in the speech at the national parliament.
“The Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya is closed,” she said, referring to an area in the north of the country near its border with Guinea, where the virus hit Liberia for the first time.
FrontPageAfrica covers the lingering human cost:
200 Children Orphaned By Ebola Virus in Liberia’s West Point
The deadly Ebola epidemic caused so many children to become orphans in Liberia. Many children lost one or both of their parents and most of them were rejected by family members for fear that taking them may lead them to contracting Ebola. In the suburb of West Point, which was quarantined at the height of the epidemic, it has been discovered that over two hundred children are orphaned by the deadly virus outbreak.
Jacob Dennis, 7 and his sister lost their parents to the Ebola virus. He lives with his aunt in West Point but said he has never been in the classroom. The child has said he wants to go to school but with his parents dead, he does not know if he would make it to the classroom. Dennis has a two-year-old sister and both children cannot recall how their parents died.
Agatha Tagbeh, 14, like Dennis is another Ebola orphan, she said her mother contracted the deadly virus when she went to mourn the death of a friend. She said the mother came home and became sick. She said when her mother became sick, her father started to care for her with all of them sleeping in the same room.
She said she was attending the N.V Massaquoi Public School in West Point before the epidemic struck and in the 4th grade. “My ma went on her family mat and that’s how she brought Ebola to us, we are three children, two girls one boy, one is eight years and the other is one year,” she said.
Across the border with the Sierra Leone Concord Times:
Cuban doctor who survived Ebola returns to Kerry Town
A Cuban medical doctor who was treated for Ebola returned to Kerry Town to thank the UK Military Health Care Workers who helped him to defeat this terrible disease.
Dr. Felix Baez was admitted to the now 20 bed Ebola Virus Disease Treatment Unit in November after becoming infected. Although the World Health Organisation took the decision to move him to Geneva for treatment, there was no doubt in his mind that the treatment he received from British Military staff was second to none.
Dr. Baez was accompanied by his colleagues Felippo and Jorge Delgado Bastillo to meet the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Alison McCourt and her team of Health Care Workers. After their first meeting in very different circumstances two months ago, Dr. Baez was “very happy” to see Alison and her team again.
From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a call:
Post-Ebola plan needed to avert “double disaster” in West Africa – Oxfam
The three West African countries worst hit by Ebola risk a “double disaster” unless a multi-million dollar plan is put in place to help their economies recover, Oxfam said on Tuesday.
In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone people were struggling to make ends meet having seen their incomes plummet, the aid agency said.
“The world was late in waking up to the Ebola crisis, there can be no excuses for not helping to put these economies and lives back together,” Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, said during a visit to Liberia.
He said a post-Ebola “Marshall Plan” should address three areas of urgent need: cash for families affected by the crisis, investment in jobs and support for basic services.
More from the Associated Press:
Oxfam: Rich countries must support Ebola recovery
Rich countries must act swiftly to repair battered health systems and get cash to millions of families in the three countries hit hardest by the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, the international development agency Oxfam said Tuesday.
Though the economies of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were recording strong growth prior to the outbreak, the countries remain some of the world’s poorest and incomes have shrunk dramatically since the first Ebola cases were confirmed in Guinea last March.
New cases now appear to be on the wane, but Oxfam said donor countries should commit to a post-Ebola “Marshall Plan” that would address urgent cash shortages and crippling damage to social services like health, education and water and sanitation.