Global health security summit puts sights on Ebola threat

Globe with stethoscope
Globe with stethoscope

SchulteProductions / iStock

The battle against Ebola was one of the main themes at a meeting of 44 nations in Washington, D.C., today to push forward a global health security plan that was adopted earlier this year, with President Barack Obama announcing a new initiative to speed the development of better protective gear for health workers in West Africa.

Launched in February, the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) is a multinational effort to protect the world against infectious disease threats with concrete national-level commitments. The Group of 7 (G7) nations endorsed the plan at its meeting in June in Brussels.

Today’s meeting in Washington was designed to secure specific commitments to implement the plan, with an eye toward boosting West Africa’s capacity within 3 years.

Obama announces PPE challenge

Speaking at the meeting today, President Obama said in the wake of yesterday's United Nations (UN) meeting on the Ebola outbreak, several countries have stepped forward with significant contributions, such as Japan’s pledge of 500,000 pieces of protective gear.

However, he called on other nations to keep the momentum going. "This epidemic underscores—vividly and tragically—what we already knew, which is, in a world as interconnected as ours, outbreaks anywhere, even in the most remote villages and the remote corners of the world, have the potential to impact everybody, every nation."

So far countries have made more than 100 commitments toward the GHSA, Obama said. "And now, we've got to turn those commitments into concrete action—starting in West Africa. We've got to make sure we never see a tragedy on this scale again, and we have to make sure we're not caught flat-footed."

During his address to the group, Obama singled out the need for trained health workers who can be called on to help in emergencies. And he announced a new effort to speed the delivery of better protective gear to medical teams working in West Africa, where hot, humid conditions have made wearing life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) almost unbearable.

The challenge is for inventors, entrepreneurs, and businesses to design better protective solutions for health workers. "If you design them, we will make them. We will pay for them. And our goal is to get them to the field in a matter of months to help the people working in West Africa right now," he said.

More information on the PPE challenge is available on the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Web site.

Call for more response

European governments should do more to mobilize a range of assets to help West African nations battle their Ebola epidemic, a group of 44 public health officials said in a letter today in The Lancet.

They said the situation in West Africa has spiraled out of control because of neglect from the international community, and they pushed European governments to take steps to make it easier for health workers to go to the region, such as offering temporary leave with hazard pay.

The group also pointed out that European countries have the resources and the knowledge to deploy more technical support, such as surveillance tools, as well as contribute more logistical support and medical supplies, both for health teams in treatment units and for communities.

In other response developments today, Cuba announced it would send 300 more medical workers to help care for patients in West Africa, bringing its total number to 461, the South African Press Association (SAPA) reported today.

Meanwhile, Germany’s defense ministry has called for volunteers to help with response efforts in West Africa, and so far 2,000 troops have volunteered, according to a report yesterday from Deutsche Welle. The report said Germany is also building a 300-bed mobile hospital in Liberia.

Canada yesterday stepped up its commitment to West Africa, announcing as much as $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance, lifting its pledge to $35.4 million, according to statements from the government.

WHO assesses convalescent serum

The World Health Organization (WHO) today published an assessment of convalescent serum therapy and the role it might play in Ebola virus disease (EVD) treatment. At a meeting to discuss potential therapies earlier this month, an expert panel said convalescent serum treatment seemed promising and prioritized it for further consideration.

It said convalescent therapy has been used a few times for EVD as far back as 1976 when the virus was first discovered, with promising results. The WHO said two American doctors received serum treatment from recovered patients, but they also received experimental drugs, making it difficult to single out the role the serum treatment played in their recoveries.

Shattered health systems and the thin supply of trained medical staff pose big obstacles to the routine use of convalescent therapy in West Africa. But, given the lack of treatment options and the growing disease toll, some partners and donors are asking what it would take to rapidly expand the treatment and which people should get the limited supplies.

The WHO said it is in discussions with West African health officials about what it would take to more widely implement the treatment, and early next week it will release new interim guidance on use of convalescent serum treatment. It added that the possible benefit of growing interest in the therapy is strengthening blood services in the region.

Ebola deaths top 3,000

In an outbreak update today, the WHO reported that, as of Sep 23, the number of cases has grown to 6,553, with fatalities rising to 3,083. Compared with the WHO tally from 2 days ago, the numbers reflect an increase of 290 infections and 166 deaths.

In Liberia, the disease has spread to the previously unaffected district of Grand Kru, a rural area on the border with Ivory Coast, the WHO said. Six EVD cases and four deaths have been reported from Grand Kru.

Hospital preparedness, medical worker infections, Ebola drugs

In other developments:

  • The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) on Sep 29 at 3 pm Eastern time will host a webinar on Ebola preparedness for hospitals, based on a checklist developed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For people who are unable to join, the Webinar will be recorded and posted on ASPR's Web site.
  • A second Spanish missionary priest infected with Ebola while working in West Africa has died, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday. The 69-year-old man who had been working as medical director at a hospital in Lunsar, Sierra Leone, and died yesterday at the Madrid hospital where he arrived after he was airlifted out of the outbreak region on Sep 22. He was the ninth sick foreign medical worker to be evacuated from the epidemic region.
  • A French woman infected with EVD while working for Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Liberia has been treated with the antiviral drug favipiravir (Avigan), Japan-based Fujifilm announced today. The drug is already approved in Japan for the treatment of infections involving new or reemerging flu viruses. France's government had requested the drug, and it was provided on an emergency basis after consultation with the Japanese government. The company said the patient is receiving Avigan in combination with another experimental drug started on Sep 19 after the woman arrived at a Paris hospital.
  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said today it has launched a formal review of experimental treatments for EVD to compile everything that's known so far about their efficacy, safety, and quality, according to a statement. Guido Rasi, the EMA's executive director, said the review will help facilitate evidence-base decision-making. It will cover six treatments so far, and the EMA has asked other companies developing Ebola drugs to contact the EMA. The drugs on the list include Biocryst’s BCX 4430, Fab'entech’s hyperimmune horse sera, MAPP Biologicals' ZMapp, Sarepta’s AVI-7537, Fujifilm's favipiravir, and Tekmira's TKM-Ebola.

See also:

Sep 26 White House GHSA fact sheet

Sep 26 Obama remarks at Global Health Security Agenda summit

Sep 26 USAID PPE challenge information

Sep 26 Lancet letter

Sep 26 SAPA story

Sep 25 Deutsche Welle story

Sep 25 Canadian government statement

Sep 26 WHO convalescent therapy assessment

Sep 26 WHO outbreak update

NACCHO announcement

Sep 25 AP story

Sep 26 Fujifilm press release

Sep 26 EMA statement

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