Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Shines Light on Global Challenges

Last Week the WHO Declared the Epidemic a Public-Health Emergency of International Concern

Baltimore, MD, USA, July 24, 2019: Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a public-health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), signaling a risk to multiple countries that requires a coordinated international response. Worse than the previous nine Ebola outbreaks in the DRC combined, more than 2,500 people are listed as confirmed or probable cases and at least 1,700 have died. This is only the fifth PHEIC declared following similar alarms for the H1N1 influenza pandemic (2009), a major outbreak of wild polio (2014), the West African Ebola epidemic (2013-16) and the Zika epidemic (2015-16). Each of these public health emergencies have highlighted weaknesses in our response systems, exposing the urgent need for improved infrastructure, scientific knowledge, and diagnostic technologies in areas most at risk.

“The Global Virus Network and all the scientists collaborating with the network will strongly support efforts of WHO following up on the PHEIC declaration for the current Kivu Ebola epidemic” said Prof. Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, president of the Global Virus Network (GVN), professor at the University of South Florida and executive director of the Romark Company Institute for Medical Research.

The declaration of the PHEIC was triggered when a case of Ebola was diagnosed in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, with greater than 1 million people that directly borders Rwanda and has an international airport. Previously, two children and their grandmother carried the virus into Uganda, while all three died. Uganda, where no more Ebola cases have occurred, is the site of a GVN center and has a strong track record of controlling Ebola.

Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, PhD, MB ChB, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), director, Center of Excellence, GVN and director of the Medical Research Council/ Uganda Virus Research Institute and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Uganda Research Unit said, “Uganda has a strong surveillance network and fortunately has been able to limit this Ebola outbreak as well as outbreaks over the past decade to only a few cases.”

The current outbreak was declared in August 2018, but the Ebola virus was likely already spreading in eastern DRC for many months. Bringing the outbreak under control has proven to be challenging. While more than 70 million people are controlled and more than 160,000 vaccines have been administered, the outbreak continues The eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri border Rwanda and Uganda, and are active conflict zones where there have been over 70 attacks on Ebola clinics or health workers since January.  There are many new confirmed cases that are unable to be traced to an existing Ebola contact. Therefore, it is likely that there are many deaths that have occurred that have gone unrecorded.

Despite the security challenges of the current epidemic, research on four therapies for Ebola is ongoing. This proves that research on cures and prevention of Ebola can, and should, occur under even the most dire outbreak conditions.

“The 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak drove an impressive advancement of knowledge,” said Prof. Giuseppe Ippolito, MD, MSc (HCMO), FRCPE, the scientific director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases (INMI) “Lazzaro Spallanzani” in Rome, director, Center of Excellence, Global Virus Network and director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for clinical care, diagnosis, response and training on Highly Infectious Diseases at INMI. “Preparedness and response must now be driven by scientific results and available evidence, involving more international and national public health institutions to alleviate the burden for humanitarian NGOs that so far stand alone. Investing in the training of a new generation of experts in virology and clinical epidemiology is critical to addressing emerging infections.”

The current Ebola outbreak in Congo has not yet achieved the magnitude of the West African epidemic. The West African Ebola epidemic, which infected at least 28,000 people and killed over 11,000, is again in the news this week with the release of a new book, Crisis in the Red Zone, a sequel to The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. The Hot Zone, published twenty-five years ago, documented events in which monkeys at a primate holding facility in Reston Virginia, only 20 miles from the center of Washington DC, developed a fatal illness. As the disease caused by Reston virus, a close relative of the Ebola virus, spread through the monkeys at the facility, the help of scientists at the nearby United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick Maryland was enlisted.

This time Preston puts much more focus on African healthcare workers and scientists. Crisis in the Red Zone describes the early events of the Ebola outbreak as the virus spread from Guinea to the Kenema Government Hospital where Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan and his team attempted to manage the influx of Ebola cases. Doctors and nurses such as Dr. Khan, head nurse and midwife Mbalu Fonnie, and nurses Alex Moigboi, Alice Kovoma and Nancy Yoko, who paid the ultimate price, are fittingly portrayed as heroes. Kenema Government Hospital has been closely affiliated with the Tulane University GVN Center of Excellence for nearly 15 years, working on Lassa fever, a disease that has many similarities to Ebola.

Prof. Robert F. Garry, Jr., PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology, Tulane University and director, Center of Excellence, GVN., commented that, “Crisis in the Red Zone provides a detailed accounting of the challenges my Sierra Leonean colleagues faced in the early days of the West African Ebola outbreak, while they awaited needed assistance from the international community. Unfortunately, some believed that the outbreak in Sierra Leone would burn out in a few weeks delaying a full scale intervention by the United States, WHO and others. New approaches to outbreak responses based on local preparedness, like those lead by GVN, are urgently needed.”

The current Ebola outbreak in the eastern DRC and the West African Ebola outbreak are but two examples of inadequate approaches to disease outbreaks that rely on an influx of foreign responders and have repeatedly been delayed and under-resourced. GVN is founded on the principle that preparedness for emerging viral diseases will necessitate deeply rooted collaborative research between local and global partners, and transformation of diagnostic tools and regional surveillance networks.

“The world is still vulnerable and under-prepared,” said Prof. Robert C. Gallo, MD, The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, co-founder and director, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder and international scientific advisor, Global Virus Network. “There is an urgent, unmet need for new proactive measures that are locally established, community-based and rooted in symmetrical partnerships to address the challenges that viruses, including those that are as yet unknown, pose to global health and security.”

GVN represents 48 Centers of Excellence and 7 affiliates in 29 countries and comprises foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans. It is a global authority and resource for the identification and investigation, interpretation and explanation, control and suppression, of viral diseases posing threats to mankind. It enhances the international capacity for reactive, proactive and interactive activities that address mankind-threatening viruses and addresses a global need for coordinated virology training through scholarly exchange programs for recruiting and training young scientists in medical virology. The GVN also serves as a resource to governments and international organizations seeking advice about viral disease threats, prevention or response strategies, and GVN advocates for research and training on virus infections and their many disease manifestations.

 

Read More: Ebola Virus Q&A

 

About the Global Virus Network (GVN)

The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, exiting and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 48 Centers of Excellence and seven Affiliates in 29 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews

Media Contact:

Nora Samaranayake, GVN

410-706-8614

nsamaranayake@gvn.org

THE GLOBAL VIRUS NETWORK (GVN) LAUNCHES AFRICA GVN TO JOIN FRENCH AND ENGLISH-SPEAKING SCIENTISTS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND ONGOING EPIDEMICS

In the Midst of the Second Worst Ebola Outbreak Since Its Discovery, Top African Scientists Identify Ways to Battle Deadly Diseases Together

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, June 25, 2019: During a meeting held last month in Entebbe, Uganda, the Global Virus Network (GVN), representing 48 Centers of Excellence and 7 Affiliates in 29 countries comprising foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans, launched the Africa GVN, a regional GVN chapter dedicated to leveraging the network’s broad resources and to combat viral diseases together despite English and French speaking language challenges on the continent. The announcement comes as the Democratic Republic of Congo faces a growing Ebola outbreak, which has jumped the border to Uganda with three confirmed cases.

“The meeting last month not only joined scientists that would not otherwise be collaborating due to language barriers, but was the catalyst in bringing together English and French speaking colleagues from the USA and Europe to discuss training, education and collaborative research programs that the GVN will be pursuing,” said Prof. Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, president of the Global Virus Network (GVN), professor at the University of South Florida and executive director of the Romark Company Institute for Medical Research. “All of these activities will be executed in tight coordination with the institutions and networks already established in, and involved in, Africa such as the Africa CDC, African Academy of Sciences, the European Commission, Foundation Merieux and the International Network of the Institut Pasteur.”

Meeting participants were comprised of top virologists from around the world with a focus on African scientists; countries included those from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and USA. The meeting focused on joint training and education initiatives, collaborative research in viral epidemics and creating partnerships with international organizations, industries, academia and governments.

“I am pleased that the GVN is developing programs that are sustainable in order for African virologists to have the opportunity to train locally and overseas in top institutions, and bring back virus expertise needed to effectively address threats such as the current Ebola outbreak,,” said Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, PhD, MB ChB, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and director of the Medical Research Council/ Uganda Virus Research Institute and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Uganda Research Unit.

Participants of the meeting outlined the need for specific training activities, such as biosafety, molecular virology, biobanking, field sampling of reservoirs, bioinformatics and initiation of research to develop evidence-based strategies to understand these viral epidemics better. The GVN is designing programs to meet these specific needs and will utilize its broad network of top virology institutions to provide exchange opportunities.

“I am pleased to see the GVN extend its reach in Africa to support strong existing organizations and forge new connections across cultures to strengthen efforts in order to effectively combat viral threats,” said Prof. Souleymane Mboup, PhD, president of Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Epidémiologique et de Formation in Senegal.

“Africa in many ways is ground zero for global pandemics, as we are seeing with the current Ebola outbreak, and it is time that we go beyond language barriers and design universal training programs and research collaborations that are suited for young African virologists who are our next generation’s hope in protecting mankind from harmful and deadly diseases,” said Prof. Alash’le Abimiku, MSc, PhD, professor of medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine and executive director, International Research Center of Excellence at the Institute of Human Virology-Nigeria.

The first GVN Africa Meeting was funded by Wellcome Trust, Servier/Association Science et Technologie (AST) and Cepheid.

About the Global Virus Network (GVN)
The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, exiting and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 48 Centers of Excellence and seven Affiliates in 29 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews

Media Contact:
Nora Samaranayake, GVN
410-706-8614
nsamaranayake@gvn.org

Global Virus Network Responds to Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Global Virus Network Responds to Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, May 31, 2018: The Global Virus Network (GVN) is mobilizing a coordinated effort to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through its Centers of Excellence.  The GVN represents 41 Centers of Excellence and 7 affiliates in 26 countries and comprises foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans.

“The GVN Centers of Excellence are directly contributing to the fight against Ebola, working in different research areas that are of crucial importance to confronting such epidemics,” said Prof. Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, President of the GVN.  “Several of GVN’s Centers are also sending scientists to the DRC.  Moreover, the GVN is currently serving as a hub to aggregate and disseminate information on each Center’s individual responses to the outbreak to better coalesce and inform a collective approach. In tandem with organizations such as the WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and other international institutions, the GVN will coordinate research and response efforts and serve as a catalyst for shared information to focus efforts on the areas in greatest need.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of May 29, 2018, there are 36 confirmed cases, 13 probable cases, and, 4 suspect cases, totaling 53 cases including 25 deaths. Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 by the Ebola River in the DRC (formerly known as Zaire).  It is not definitively known where Ebola originates, however, it is believed that bats are the main reservoir for the virus.

Four species of ebolaviruses cause disease in humans and the one causing the outbreak in the DRC is Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus).  Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) spreads to people through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the virus and presenting disease, objects contaminated with the virus, as well as dead bodies from EVD. The virus can also spread to people through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected fruit bats or primates.

“When my colleagues and I co-founded the GVN in 2011, we made a commitment to share data so that science could be fast-tracked in situations such as the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC,” said Dr. Gallo, who is Co-Founder and International Scientific Advisor of the GVN and The Homer & Martha Gudeslky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Center of Excellence.  “Without an organized network of the world’s leading virologists supporting implementation organizations such as GOARN, the science of the epidemic will progress slowly.  We have an experimental vaccine that we believe may be effective, but more research is needed.”

GVN Center of Excellence, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), is heavily involved in Ebola virus research and the deployment of equipment and supplies to the DRC.  Said Michael Oldstone, MD, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology at TSRI and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, “Our group has been studying Ebola in Sierra Leone for more than four years. We are focused on detailing the innate and adoptive immune response in those dying and those that survive, studying host genetics and viral genetics, and analyzing biomarkers for, and molecular mechanism of, the enhanced vascular permeability, or the so-called hemorrhagic component.”

Erica Ollmann Saphire, PhD, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology at TSRI and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, who is researching the proteins of the Ebola virus, said her team has mobilized loads of donated personal protective equipment and supplies to the DRC. The tools were already delivered to Kinshasa to support epidemiology, mapping, and immune studies. Dr. Saphire will also be studying the immune responses in survivors and vaccines. She founded and directs a global effort to understand and develop antibody therapeutics against these viruses, and has recently engineered improved antibodies that are being evaluated for treatment of disease.

Kristian G. Andersen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Director of Infectious Disease Genomics, STSI, Department of Immunology and Microbiology also at TSRI, and whose lab in the past used virus sequencing to understand and track past outbreaks such as Ebola, Lassa, and Zika, said, “The current outbreak is confusing.  The most critical questions at this point relate to understanding (1) the scale of the outbreak, (2) when it started, and, (3) how it is spreading.  Is it human-to-human infection or repeated animal to human infection?  We can address all those questions by sequencing the virus from a subset of the cases, and we are on standby to assist.”

At Emory University, Raymond Schinazi, PhD, DSc, the Frances Winship Walters Professor of Pediatrics, Director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, is working with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on repurposed drug therapy for Ebola.  “Working with colleagues at the CDC, we recently discovered some really interesting, new, safe and potent repurposed drugs that are approved for human use for other indications that are highly effective against Ebola virus in culture,” said Dr. Schinazi.

At the Rega Institute for Medical Research at the University of Leuven, Johan Neyts, PhD, Professor of Virology and Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, is developing a novel technology that allows for the rapid production of inexpensive vaccines against the yellow fever virus.  This vaccine no longer needs to be kept cold for storage and transport. Dr. Neyts said, “The technology allows us to easily design vaccines that protect not just against yellow fever but also a second pathogen.  Our team is currently working towards the construction of a dual yellow fever/Ebola vaccine using this technology.  The fact that such a vaccine would, in contrast to current Ebola virus vaccine (candidates), no longer need a cold-chain, would be an important asset.”

GVN Centers of Excellence are working closely with GOARN on a variety of issues including diagnostic, epidemiological studies and clinical management in conjunction with other Centers of Excellence such as the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston National Laboratory in the USA, Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, the Institute for Virology at the University of Marburg in Germany, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, several French Pasteur Institutes of the International Network of the Institut Pasteur, and the Fondation Mérieux in France.

The GVN is a global authority and resource for the identification and investigation, interpretation and explanation, control and suppression, of viral diseases posing threats to mankind.  It enhances the international capacity for reactive, proactive and interactive activities that address mankind-threatening viruses and addresses a global need for coordinated virology training through scholarly exchange programs for recruiting and training young scientists in medical virology.  The GVN also serves as a resource to governments and international organizations seeking advice about viral disease threats, prevention or response strategies, and GVN advocates for research and training on virus infections and their many disease manifestations.

GVN Scientist Publishes Ebola – Marburg Virus Connection

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire’s Lab of The Scripps Research Institute recently published in Cell the discovery of an antibody that binds to both the  Marburg and Ebola virus. The ability of an antibody to bind to both of these  deadly viruses is a major step forward in the potential treatment of them. Article

Confronting Ebola at its Origins: GVN Member, The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Deploys their Mobile Diagnostic Laboratory to Sierra Leone

The 2014/15 outbreak of Ebola virus disease is the largest ever reported of this deadly, highly infectious, hemorrhagic disease since its initial discovery in humans in 1976. The current outbreak was first recognized in March, 2014 in Guinea and has since crossed international boundaries into Sierra Leone and Liberia where case numbers have now surpassed those recorded in the country of origin. Due to international travel of infected individuals, both medical professionals and non-professionals, the virus has also been introduced and caused smaller outbreaks in Mali, Nigeria, Spain and the United States. A worldwide response was launched. Like the infectious agent, this approach crosses interdisciplinary, geographical, cultural and socio-political boundaries and includes research, professional and public education, clinical care and respectful, safe disposition of the remains of those who died from the illness. In this paper, we aim to reduce fears of the unknown and encourage continued efforts to conquer the epidemic by describing the nature of the infectious agent, by providing a brief overview of its history, scope, and impact.

Prof. dr hab. Janusz T. Paweska & Dr. Petrus Jansen van Vuren Centre for Emerging and Zoonotic Disease of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa