The 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH, a Burness Client), on November 5, 2014, featured informative, gripping, tragic, and inspirational testimony from people working on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic and now racing to develop, test, and approve life-saving drugs and vaccines. The meeting highlighted progress and setbacks, and attracted many major media outlets eager for updates about the situation in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
The progress we are seeing: many pharmaceutical companies and regulatory officials are working to develop new drugs and vaccines (read this ABC News article to learn more). Given the urgent need to stop the outbreak, some companies want to test these interventions immediately, bypassing a typical test phase (the Guardian reported in more detail in this article). Companies that were once fiercely competitive are now working together to find a cure. Dr. Armand Sprecher of Médecins San Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders in English) said that in previous, smaller outbreaks elsewhere in Africa, Ebola stopped spreading mainly because people in the community learned to avoid contact with infected individuals.
There are also setbacks: the outbreak has been especially detrimental for pregnant women. In Sierra Leone, many physicians have died or have refused to perform Caesarian sections or assist with even normal delivery for fear of coming into contact with the disease. This sudden withdrawal of care is a major setback for the decades of work done to improve maternal health in the region.
Scientists are working to answer many lingering questions, including why some people get a milder form of the disease than others, and whether a serum derived from the blood of Ebola survivors could become a useful treatment. There is still much to learn. To read 10 interesting facts and observations that emerged from the meeting, join us on the ASTMH blog here.
A collection of news coverage of Ebola-related discussions at the conference can be found here:
Associated Press: US Officials Unveil Plan to Test Ebola Drugs
The Guardian (UK): Experimental Ebola drugs should not be withheld, WHO says
Los Angeles Times: FDA officials defend use of placebos during Ebola drug trials