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Vaccine trials will continue without a clear path forward
Daily headlines on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa have subsided, but healthcare needs remain dire, not just for the epidemic but to restore basic healthcare services disrupted by the deadly disease. A Direct Relief flight left Los Angeles International Airport in early February to bring more than $7 million worth of drugs, medical devices and kits, sufficient to support 83 healthcare facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to Direct Relief, dozens of primary care facilities shuttered during the crisis; malaria and other conditions went untreated; vaccination programs were suspended, prompting a recent measles outbreak; and pregnancy-related complications saw an uptick as more women gave birth at home.
"As the focus shifts to long-term health systems strengthening in West Africa, these items will help restore confidence in health care for both providers and people seeking care," said Andrew MacCalla, Director of Emergency Response and International Programs at Direct Relief.
The pharmaceutical supplies were made possible by Accord Healthcare, Actavis Pharma, Bayer Corporation - USA, Baxter International, GSK, Hospira, Mylan Laboratories, Prestige Brands and Teva Pharmaceuticals. BD, 3M and others donated supplies.
There are many lessons to be learned from the pandemic, but a lot of unanswered questions, too. The dealth toll is 9,152, as of Feb. 10, out of about 22,500 reported cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea—well under the projections made earlier in the crisis. Vaccines being tested have had mixed results, according to press reports; one company, Chimerix (Durham, NC) withdrew its candidate; ZMapp, from Mapp Pharmaceuticals (San Diego) showed promise but supplies ran out (and now there might be too few candidates for a meaningful trial). Other drugs are being considered while medical researchers try to figure out how to conduct a meaningful trial without the use of a placebo control drug, to which some healthcare organizations have objected.