WHO Ebola emergency committee to meet next week

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that its emergency committee on Ebola will meet for its fourth time on Jan 20 to review recent developments and assess whether the outbreak in West Africa still amounts to a public health emergency of international concern.

Since the group's last meeting on Oct 23, case levels surged in Sierra Leone, waxed and waned in Guinea, and started to drop off in Liberia, with the most recent signals showing that Ebola infections are now decreasing in all three countries.

Also, two travel-linked cases were detected in Mali in October, one of which sparked a cluster of infections, and the virus continues to infect healthcare workers in the outbreak area, including a handful of foreigners who were airlifted out of the region for treatment.

According to the WHO's outbreak total today, the number of illnesses in the three hardest-hit countries has grown to 21,373, with fatality count rising to 8,468. The latest report reflects an increase of 44 cases and 24 deaths since the WHO's update yesterday and include data through Jan 13 for Guinea and Sierra Leone and Jan 12 for Liberia.

The emergency committee typically meets every 3 months or earlier as developments warrant. 

In a statement e-mailed to journalists, the WHO said the meeting will be held by teleconference, and members will also decide if changes to current public health recommendations are needed. The group added that it would post a statement on the committee's findings after the meeting.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, first declared the public health emergency on Aug 8, based on the unanimous recommendation of the 13-member emergency committee. The announcement triggered a set of recommended steps to help curb the outbreak.

J&J vaccine gets funding boost

Meanwhile, in an effort to speed the development of its prime-boost Ebola vaccine regimen for use in West Africa's outbreak setting, Johnson & Johnson announced the formation of a research consortium that is set to receive more than $115 million in grants from Europe's Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, the third Ebola vaccine to enter clinical trials is based on AdVac technology from Crucell Holland BV and MVA-BN technology from Bavarian Nordic. The phase 1 trial of the vaccine launched earlier this month at the University of Oxford. IMI is Europe's largest public-private initiative for fast-forwarding the development of better and safer medications and vaccines.

In a statement today, Johnson & Johnson said the groups include the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, INSERM, University of Oxford University, La Centre Mura, Bavarian Nordic, Vibalogics, the Grameen Foundation, and the World Vision of Ireland, which will work with its Janssen Pharmaceutical division.

The grants will support work on four projects—three to speed clinical trials and scale up production and one to explore new ways to raise awareness and build acceptance for vaccination campaigns. 

Paul Stoffels, MD, Johnson & Johnson's chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman for pharmaceuticals, said in the statement that bringing all the groups together is critical to help solving the Ebola crisis. "The European Commission's support through IMI bolsters collaboration that should significantly accelerate efforts to help address this humanitarian crisis."

Other developments

  • Public Health England (PHE) announced today that a volunteer who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone was brought to the United Kingdom today for evaluation and monitoring and that another who was possible exposed in a separate incident is also returning to the UK. It said the individuals haven't been diagnosed as having Ebola and don't have symptoms, and their infection risk remains low. PHE added that the volunteers will be initially assessed in the hospital and will be monitored for the 21-day incubation period, in line with recommendations for returning workers. The PHE didn't give any details about the patients, but the Sydney Morning Herald said an Australian nurse has been evacuated to the UK from Sierra Leone after some of her skin was exposed while working at an Ebola treatment center.

  • Schools in Guinea, shuttered to curb the spread of Ebola, will reopen on Jan 19, the Associated Press (AP) reported today, citing the country's health ministry. Liberia's government has announced that schools will resume in February, and so far Sierra Leone hasn't announced when school will start again, though it is monitoring the situation.

See also:

WHO Ebola emergency committee page

Jan 16 WHO Ebola situation update

Jan 16 Johnson & Johnson press release

Jan 16 PHE statement

Jan 17 Sydney Morning Herald story

Jan 16 AP story

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