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WHO cautions against use of known Ebola therapeutics for Sudan strain

Ebola taskforce. The virus is currently ravaging parts of Mubende district.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The World Health Organization-WHO has urged health workers in Uganda not to consider using Ebola therapeutics used to treat patients in the neighboring DR Congo, saying these will not be effective.

Speaking at an Ebola Infection Prevention and Control-IPC meeting for health workers held on Monday, Dr. Bodo Bongomin, the Ebola Case Management Co-chairperson at WHO, said two Ebola therapeutics had been previously approved for use in other species of the virus, not the Sudan strain circulating in Uganda.

The two medicines called Inmazeb and Ebanga which were approved in 2020 can be used by both adults and children.

Bongomin explains that Inmazeb is  combination of three monoclonal antibodies whereas Ebanga is a single monoclonal antibody where both were developed using Ebola Zaire strain.

Monoclonal antibodies are proteins produced in a lab or other manufacturing facility that mimic natural antibodies of a recovered person and can be used to stop a germ such as a virus from replicating after it has infected a person.

However, Bongomin says none of these have been tested to see if they can work to treat other species of the Ebola virus.

Apart from the Sudan strain that’s currently ravaging Uganda and the Zaire strain that has both a vaccine and therapeutics, there are other four isolated strains of Ebola that too can’t be treated yet, Bongomin explains.

As he said this, the country had tested and confirmed a total of eighteen cases picked from six villages in Mubende district, Kyegegwa and Kassanda districts. Also, the Ministry of Health had reported a total of eighteen probable cases who succumbed before tests could be done. A total of twenty three deaths are being reported just a week after the first case was confirmed.

Now, even as cases are on the increase, the organization says health workers don’t have a lot of options but except to give supportive treatment to manage symptoms, offering psychosocial support and engaging in aggressive risk communication such that patients are referred quickly for isolation.

So far however, even as Uganda has previously managed to handle Ebola outbreaks quickly, Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng says there was a lapse in quick identification of suspects.

She said the Village Health Teams (VHTs) were not quick to report, since they only got to know of what was happening in the community two weeks after the first probable cases died.

Aceng now urges VHTs to go back to their communities and sensitize people on the benefits of early linkage to proper care and limiting transmission.

Experts say while Ebola initially presents with a fever, diarrhea and headaches like many infectious diseases, a sufferer quickly gets advanced disease leading to multi-organ failure and death. Symptoms such as bleeding that are commonly attributable to the viral infection may not happen to some patients.

At the meeting on Monday, Dr. Rodgers Ayebare, an Infection Preventionist at the Infectious Diseases Institute urged health workers to embrace routine screening to rule out infection.

He also urged them to sleep under insecticide treated mosquito nets to avoid infections like malaria whose symptoms may mimic Ebola and end them in Ebola isolation units unnecessarily.

By Monday, 35 cases were in admission.

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