File picture: Suiting up to keep safe - the roving Ebola burial team in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Picture: Simon Davis/DFID Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
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Congolese Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe discovers a new Ebola treatment that can cure symptoms in just an hour

The frequent Ebola outbreaks across African countries over the past two decades have caused a massive loss of life and devastating economic effects. Thanks to Congolese Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, Ebola is now a curable disease and the destruction it has caused on the continent could soon be a thing of the past. Dr Muyembe says the new treatment can cure 90% of infections.

The impact of the Ebola crisis on health, education and standard of living is unprecedented. The disease has severely impacted the provision of healthcare services and caused setbacks in the treatment and control of other serious diseases, including HIV, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Additionally, quarantines have had a disproportionate impact on the elderly, the poor, and people with chronic illness or disability.

To date the most widespread outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in history was the Western African Ebola virus epidemic that occurred between 2013 and 2016. The outbreak caused major loss of life and socioeconomic disruption in the region, mainly in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. According to reports, it left about 17,000 survivors of the disease, many of whom report post-recovery symptoms termed post-Ebola syndrome, often severe enough to require medical care for months or even years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in 2016 that a two-year trial of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine appeared to offer protection from the variant of EBOV responsible for the Western Africa outbreak. This treatment and other like it has however been dropped from trials for a new experimental drug that is more effective.

This experimental drug discovered by Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe and his team of researchers will be a massive help to the ongoing crisis in Congo where nearly 2,800 people have been diagnosed and more than 1,800 people have died in what WHO declared a public health emergency “of international concern”.

Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe’s Ebola Cure

Ebola was first described in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and what is now South Sudan. It is therefore fitting that a scientist from one of these regions is responsible for finding a cure to the devastating disease.

Read: Liberia: On International Women’s Day, we remember Ebola heroine nurse Salome Karwah

77-year-old, Congolese Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe who is the director general of Congo’s National Institute for Biomedical Research, which has overseen the trial of the ground-breaking treatment was also part of the team that discovered the virus 43 years ago.

The new drugs, named REGN-EB3 and mAb114, work by attacking the Ebola virus with antibodies, neutralising its impact on human cells

“I spent four decades of my life thinking how to treat patients with the Ebola virus. So this is the achievement of my life,” Dr Muyembe told the BBC of his achievement.

The treatment can reportedly cure symptoms in just an hour and BBC highlighted that recently two people cured of the disease using the experimental drugs were released from a treatment centre in Goma, DR Congo, and reunited with their families.

“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” said Dr Muyembe. “These advances will help save thousands of lives… Now we can say that 90 percent can come out of treatment cured, they will start believing it and developing trust,”  “The first ones to transmit this information will be the patients themselves,” he said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, told The Verge that, “This is the first time that a randomized, controlled trial has shown quickly and successfully what the best drugs are in the middle of an ongoing outbreak”.

Despite the good news there are challenge towards the treatment moving forwards. Verge reports that the treatment is currently being offered at no cost for “compassionate use” even though it is still technically experimental. This is because the process of getting a drug through regulatory agencies and into commercial availability is long and cumbersome. Furthermore because outbreaks are sporadic and unpredictable the market for the drugs would be unpredictable making it an unattractive investment for the private sector. It would therefore need local and international state intervention to become readily available in times of crisis.

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