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In the midst of the Ebola outbreak, the Democratic Republic of Congo has embarked on an "important step" towards finding an effective treatment against the deadly virus. The World Health Organization announced that the country had launched the first-ever multi-drug clinical trial on potential Ebola treatments.
"The giant step that the DRC is taking today will clarify what works best and save many lives in the years to come," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, in a statement released today. on Monday. "We hope someday to say that the death and suffering caused by Ebola are behind us."
The trial aims to determine which of the four main Ebola treatments – designated by the WHO as mAb114, Regeneron, Remdesivir and ZMapp – is the most effective in controlling a virus with a high mortality rate.
Since the declaration of the last home, about four months ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo Ministry of Health says at least 419 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola have been registered, of which at least 240 have died.
2. The #Ebola the number of cases now stands at 419 confirmed and probable cases and 240 deaths. This epidemic is about to become the second largest; The 2000 Gulu (Uganda) outbreak, which recorded 425 cases and 224 deaths, is currently in second place. pic.twitter.com/KYOsrRGTfN
– Helen Branswell (@HelenBranswell) November 26, 2018
To better evaluate these drugs, WHO revised the treatment protocol it created specifically for Ebola, known as emergency monitored use of experimental and unregistered interventions. The organization proposed the protocol as an urgent workaround, in order to allow medical staff to use experimental treatments that have not yet resulted in clinical trials.
"The new drugs we use are not approved for the Ebola virus because there are not enough clinical trials to show their effectiveness," said Janet Diaz, of the WHO, to All Things Considered of NPR earlier this month. "So we got permission from the Congo Ethics Committee to use these potentially life-saving treatments for patients in the DRC."
The WHO explains that this protocol will remain the same, but for a big change.
"Patients will not be treated differently before, but the treatment they will receive will be decided by random assignment," explained the group. "The data collected will be standardized and will be useful for drawing conclusions about the safety and effectiveness of drugs."
John Wessels / AFP / Getty Images
In fighting the latest epidemic, however, medical workers have had more to deal with than the disease alone. Ebola cases have surfaced in the war-torn eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Kivu and Ituri, where rebels are conducting a bloody guerrilla campaign against government forces.
Seven United Nations peacekeepers were killed in one of these skirmishes earlier this month and eleven other civilians – including two Congolese health workers – were killed in the area last month. Experts are concerned that the continuation of the bloodshed will hinder the medical response and could cause it to completely lose. In addition to tracking and treating cases, front-line health workers vaccinate tens of thousands of people.
"You take that off, you've removed a damper," said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center, Nurnith Aithman. "You are going to witness a sharp escalation of this epidemic and your export risks in the region and beyond are going through the ceiling."
It is already the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nevertheless, the country's health minister, Oly Ilunga, Monday expressed hope that new randomized trials mark a turning point in how to treat the virus.
"Our country is too often hit by Ebola outbreaks, which also means we have unique expertise to fight it," he said. "These trials will contribute to the acquisition of this knowledge, while continuing to intervene on all fronts to put an end to the current epidemic."