Despite the continuous spread of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the possibility of the virus crossing into other Sub-Saharan Africa countries, Nigeria does not have vaccines for the disease.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and National Coordinator of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian: “An Ebola vaccine is being used for the first time ever to respond to the outbreak in the DRC. The Ebola vaccine is currently administered to people who have been in close contact with those infected or those who are likely to be in contact with a case.
“Vaccines are not commercially available and only available through WHO when an outbreak has been addressed. Given that Nigeria does not have any case of Ebola currently, we do not have vaccines in country. However, we are working very closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to monitor the situation in DRC and strengthen Nigeria’s preparedness in the event of an outbreak.
“The most utilized route of entry by passengers from the DRC is through our major international airports in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt, but there is no direct flight. The National Port Health services have strengthened screening procedure in these locations.”
According to the WHO, there are now 17 confirmed Ebola cases in this outbreak, including one death, plus 21 probable cases and five suspected ones. It was not immediately clear what link the new cases might have to others.
An experimental Ebola vaccine to be deployed in an outbreak in DRC has conquered some major scientific hurdles in giving high protection, but it now faces extreme real-world tests including heat, humidity, language barriers and lack of roads.
Because it is not yet licensed, the Merck & Co vaccine has been offered to Congo under a “compassionate use” protocol agreed by national and international health and ethics authorities.
This means fully informed, signed consent is needed from every person who wants the shot. And in the current Ebola outbreak, that makes logistical, cultural and language barriers the ultimate challenges, global health specialists say.
The shot is designed for use in a so-called “ring vaccination”. When a new Ebola case is diagnosed, all people who might have been in recent contact with them are traced and vaccinated to try and prevent the disease’s spread.
The vaccine supplies so far will be enough to vaccinate 50 rings of 150 people, according to the WHO. It said that as of May 15, 527 contacts of Ebola cases and suspected cases had been identified and were being followed up.
Results of a trial using the ring vaccination technique with the Merck shot, which is known as VSV-EBOV, in Guinea in West Africa in 2015 showed 100 per cent protection in those vaccinated immediately.
Meanwhile, the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA) will begin this morning at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, with how to control the Ebola virus top on the agenda.
The WHA is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.
The main functions of the WHA are to determine the policies of the Organization, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget.