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Why I am volunteering to test the Ebola vaccine

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General - Health Systems and Innovation

Commentary
21 October 2014

Portrait of Marie-Paul Kieny, Assistant Director-General - Health Systems and Innovation.

Like many staff at WHO and health workers in West Africa and around the world, our heart goes out to those communities affected by the Ebola virus. This particular epidemic has attacked the global health community disproportionately as caregivers, either health professionals or family members, are at greatest risk of contracting the disease. This one has hit home.

Right now, without any proven medications or vaccines, the best course of action is early detection and care, including basic sanitary measures and intensive rehydration. If rehydration can begin within the first three days after symptoms begin, the grim mortality rate of 70% can reduce dramatically.

"Volunteering for a vaccine trial is just one of those ways we can directly contribute to this common human challenge and stand behind our colleagues and friends in Africa."

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General - Health Systems and Innovation

If a vaccine were available, this would of course be the best preventative method to control and eventually eliminate this deadly contagion. Typically the development and testing of a vaccine takes years. For this emergency, scientists, manufacturers, governments, regulators, funders and WHO are pulling out all the stops to see if we can have one developed, tested, and produced in enough volume to make a difference next year.

This of course will not help those infected now but, by accelerating the development and production of promising vaccines that are safe and effective, we can hope to have it available for West Africa and the world within months.

Ebola is not a West African problem, it is a problem for mankind. To that end I strongly feel that the world should stand in solidarity with West Africa and be part of the development and testing of Ebola vaccines.

WHO has helped facilitate partnerships for this development and testing, focusing on the vaccines with the greatest likelihood of success and ability for mass production, as well as identifying and supporting the clinical trial sites. Human tests for safety and effectiveness of two promising vaccines have already begun in the United States, the United Kingdom and Mali, and are about to begin in Germany and Switzerland as well as Gabon and Kenya. The next phase of human testing will be in West Africa.

This week Switzerland will be receiving its first Ebola vaccines for testing. Many WHO staff including myself are volunteering to test these new vaccines. Why? Quite simply, to help get effective vaccines tested and available as quickly as possible, and to be part of the solution any way we can.

Many of our colleagues in the health care profession have lost their lives caring for those with Ebola, and many more are putting themselves in harm’s way as part of their call to duty. Many of us cannot be there to help, but we can help in many other ways. Volunteering for a vaccine trial is just one of those ways we can directly contribute to this common human challenge and stand behind our colleagues and friends in Africa.

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