Healthcare charity speeds supplies to Africa's Ebola virus outbreak

Meanwhile, a scramble to accelerate vaccine testing ramps up

Direct Relief, Inc., one of a number of public health nonprofits that responds to disasters and other healthcare crises, is organizing a shipment of more than 40 tons of essential medicines and supplies to support healthcare workers trying to manage the Ebola outbreak, now affecting several countries in West Africa. The death toll has passed 1,000 (and is thought to be significantly undercounted) and the latest reports from the World Health Organisation say that it could last months.

This latest shipment from Direct Relief (there has been at least one prior delivery) includes 2.3 million gloves, 65,000 masks, 92,000 gowns, and 185,000 tabs of antibiotics — include products from 3M, Actavis Pharma, Inc., Ansell Healthcare, Basic Medical, Baxter International, Inc., BD, Cera Products, Inc., Covidien, Henry Schein, Inc., Kimberly-Clark, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Merck & Co., Inc., Mylan Laboratories, Inc., Nephron Pharmaceuticals, Omron Healthcare, Inc., Pfizer, Prestige Brands, Pro2 Solutions, Inc., Sappo Hill, and Teva. FedEx is handling logistics.

“The unprecedented scale of the outbreak has over-stretched local and even international public health institutions, so the mobilization of private resources, including from companies who make essential products or just want to help, can play a defining role in the collective effort to stem the outbreak," said Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, in a statement. “We are deeply thankful so many are stepping up to help in so many ways."

Last Mile Relief, a nonprofit based in Liberia, will be the recipient of some of the delivery.

Vaccine work

The Ebola virus, first isolated in 1976, has been the target of several vaccine-development programs over the years, including one funded by the US Dept. of Defense, but many of these programs had slowed or stopped in recent years. Ebola outbreaks have mostly been sporadic and limited in their extent; this is shaping up to be one of the biggest in recent years. GSK, Tekmira Pharmaceutical, Mapp Pharmaceuticals, the Scripps Research Institute, and government research groups in Canada and elsewhere are either dusting off prior research efforts or ramping up new ones—and at least one experimental product will be tested directly in West Africa soon, but full-blown testing and production of any of these products is a year or more away. Like many other tropical diseases, Ebola fever suffers from being most common in the developing world with few medical research capabilities, and a very limited commercial potential for drug developers.