Wellcome pledges new funds to tackle Ebola outbreak – but more is needed to prevent catastrophe

Wellcome is making £2 million available to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to support vaccine research as part of the emergency response to the Ebola outbreak there.

An Ebola response team in DRC, under the protection of UN troops wearing bulletproof vests and helmets.
An Ebola response team arrives in Oicha, in the east of DRC, to vaccinate anyone who has been in contact with an Ebola victim.
Credit: Sven Torfinn

The pledge comes after the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on donors to continue funding the response to the Ebola outbreak. There is a risk the response will slow down if current actions are not sustained and intensified.

Since the outbreak began in August 2018, there have been over 800 Ebola virus cases in the area, including 563 deaths.

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said: “The Ebola virus has taken hold in an incredibly challenging region and recent attacks on treatment centres show that the security situation is a very real concern which will impact on the epidemic. The outbreak is in danger of spreading within the DRC, and if the international community doesn’t step up their support, there is real risk that this outbreak will get out of control, cross borders and take off as it did in the West African epidemic where over 11,000 people died.”

“To prevent catastrophe, the international response must be significantly increased to support the incredible work led by DRC. The DRC, WHO and partner’s public health teams have provided an amazing response, but the situation is fragile and they need global support to ensure this outbreak is contained effectively. Wellcome is committed to helping the world tackle the Ebola threat and we have made £2 million available immediately to support the response. Further funds will be needed, and we are working with our global partners to address these needs.”

Wellcome’s £2m emergency funding is provided through the Joint Initiative on Epidemic Preparedness, a partnership with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) that is part of our work on vaccines.

Previous Ebola funding

To support this and the earlier 2018 Ebola outbreak in DRC, Wellcome released £2 million to fund research in DRC. DFID gave a further £1m via the Joint Initiative on Epidemic Preparedness.

In December 2016, trials of an Ebola vaccine showed it provided a high level of protection against a strain of the deadly disease. The vaccine, made by Merck, Sharpe & Dohme, was funded by Wellcome, DFID and the Norwegian Government among others, and has been proved safe for human use.

It was one of a number developed rapidly during the 2014-2016 epidemic. Although it came too late to have a significant impact on that outbreak, it is now stockpiled, ready for use, by the vaccines alliance, GAVI.  

Several other vaccines are also in development, including candidates from Johnson & Johnson, GSK, Russia and China.

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