Wellcome pledges £2m after new Ebola outbreak confirmed

Wellcome is making an initial fund of up to £2 million available to support a rapid response to the new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The pledge comes after the DRC government announced the latest outbreak this week, following tests that confirmed two cases of Ebola in the Bikoro area, near the north-west border. It’s the ninth Ebola outbreak in DRC.

The funding will be available to the government of the DRC and the World Health Organization (WHO) for the critical research needed to support the operational response now underway in the country.

Wellcome’s £2m emergency funding will also be supported by £1m funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through the Joint Initiative on Epidemic Preparedness

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said: "It’s vital the global response to this outbreak is swift. We know from previous outbreaks that the DRC are ready to act, but they need global support to ensure this outbreak is contained effectively. We must ensure the very best protection for the communities at risk and for the health workers working to protect lives – now and for future outbreaks.

"Wellcome is committed to helping the world tackle the Ebola threat and we have made funds available immediately. Further funds will be needed and we are working with our global partners to address these needs."

Wellcome is working closely with members of the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) network.

First response teams from the DRC, WHO and MSF are now in Bikoro to understand the epidemic, and strengthen coordination and investigations. In the past five weeks, there have been 27 suspected Ebola virus cases in the area, including 17 deaths.

Dr Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General, Emergency Preparedness and Response, said: "The first step in containing this outbreak is to understand the extent of transmission, ensure care for people infected, engage communities and trace contacts. The generous support from Wellcome and partners like DFID and GloPID-R in combination with WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies is already making a difference."

In December 2016, trials of an Ebola vaccine, with funders including Wellcome, DFID and the Norwegian government, confirmed it provides a high level of protection against a strain of the deadly disease. This vaccine was one of a number developed rapidly during the epidemic but came too late to have a significant impact on the 2016 outbreak. 

The vaccine, made by MSD, has been proved safe for human use and is stockpiled, ready for use, by the vaccines alliance GAVI.

Several other vaccines are also in development, including candidates from Johnson & Johnson, GSK, Russia and China.

Update: 17 May 2018

The DRC has confirmed a case of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city of around half a million people.

The total number of cases has risen to 44, and 23 people have died.

Jeremy Farrar said: "Confirmation today of an Ebola case in Mbandaka, a major urban centre, around 150km from the cases reported last week, is an extremely concerning development. Ebola spreads rapidly, and this outbreak is in an area where people connect, trade and travel – an environment ripe for spreading disease. Swift and decisive action by the DRC and WHO to bring this outbreak under control means vaccines are now in the affected area.

"Had a vaccine been available earlier alongside other critical public health interventions in the devastating epidemic of 2014 to 2016, thousands of lives might have been saved. Thanks to rapid national response and global collaboration, this time around we are in a better position to protect the communities at risk and the health workers dedicated to protecting lives. But this will be an incredibly challenging operation, across a vast area and fragile health systems, and cannot be limited to deployment of vaccines."

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