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WHO to Begin Testing Ebola Vaccine     03/05 06:35

   LONDON (AP) -- The World Health Organization will start large-scale testing 
of an experimental Ebola vaccine in Guinea on Saturday to see how effective it 
might be in preventing future outbreaks of the deadly virus.

   The West African nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been 
hardest hit in the yearlong Ebola outbreak, which has left more than 9,800 
people dead. In a statement Thursday, the U.N. health agency said the vaccine 
study will focus on Basse Guinee, the region that has Guinea's most Ebola cases.

   The health agency's vaccination strategy in Guinea aims to create a buffer 
zone around an Ebola case to prevent its further spread --- an approach used to 
eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. Officials will vaccinate people who have 
already been exposed to Ebola cases and are at risk of developing the disease.

   The vaccine being tested --- VSV-EBOV --- was developed by Canada and is now 
licensed to Merck. A second vaccine --- one developed by U.S. National 
Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline --- will be tested in a separate study 
as supplies become available. The Guinea trial is being conducted with other 
health partners including Doctors Without Borders, Epicentre, the Norwegian 
Institute of Public Health and the Guinean government.

   "If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool 
against Ebola in history," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said in a statement.

   Bertrand Draguez, medical director of Doctors Without Borders, applauded the 
move, which he called long overdue.

   "For more than a year, we have been racing around the clock to stop the 
epidemic from spreading further," he noted.

   On Wednesday, WHO reported 132 new Ebola cases last week, an increase from 
the 99 cases reported the previous week. The agency said the spread of Ebola 
remains "widespread" in Sierra Leone and noted that cases have jumped both 
there and in Guinea.

   WHO said only about half of new Ebola patients in Guinea are connected to 
known cases, meaning that health officials are unable to track where the 
disease is spreading in the other half of cases. WHO also said unsafe 
traditional burials --- a high-risk factor for Ebola transmission --- continue 
to occur in both Guinea and Sierra Leone.

   Officials also said the number of Ebola deaths taking place outside of 
hospitals still remains high in Guinea and Sierra Leone, "suggesting that the 
need for early isolation and treatment is not yet understood, accepted or acted 
upon."

   WHO had previously set a goal of isolating all Ebola cases and ensuring all 
burials were safe by January 1. Authorities in Liberia planned to discharge the 
country's last Ebola patient on Thursday. It will take 42 days of no new cases 
for Liberia to be declared Ebola-free by WHO standards.


(KA)


 
 
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