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Friday 13 December 2019

Liberia state of emergency lifted

Trials for an Ebola vaccine are due to get under way in West Africa
Trials for an Ebola vaccine are due to get under way in West Africa

Liberia's president says she is lifting a state of emergency imposed to control an Ebola outbreak that has ravaged the country but added that the move does not mean the outbreak is over.

Accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus, Doctors Without Borders announced.

In a nationwide address on Thursday, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said enough progress has been made to lift emergency measures. There have been fewer Ebola cases in the capital, though fresh hotspots have emerged. One of those is near the border with Sierra Leone, which along with Guinea has also been hit hard by the disease.

The emergency measures closed schools, banned large public gatherings, shut some markets and allowed the government to restrict people's movements. Schools remain closed, but officials are discussing how and when to reopen them.

Doctors Without Borders said it will host clinical trials starting next month in three Ebola treatment centres experimenting with drugs for off-label uses, shortening the usual lengthy process used to find treatments through study with animals and healthy people.

Dr Annick Antierens, who is coordinating the investigational partnerships for Doctors Without Borders, said two pharmaceutical drugs were chosen for the experiments - antivirals from Japan and the United States - along with the use of a "convalescent plasma," which is blood taken from people who have survived Ebola and probably have useful anti-bodies.

"These drugs have both already been used in other indications, so they are off-label drugs," she said. "They have not been approved and they have not been tested in humans for the treatment of Ebola. There is another therapeutic product that has been also selected, which is the use of convalescent plasma, or convalescent blood."

Separate trials will be led by three different research partners and involve the UN World Health Organisation and health officials in affected countries.

"If we're going to find a treatment, we have to do it now - which is why we have to accelerate these trials," said Peter Horby, the chief investigator for the trial led by Oxford University.

Oxford's trial will test the US antiviral drug Brincidofovir in Liberia.

France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research will conduct a trial of the Japanese antiviral drug Favipiravir in Gueckedou, Guinea, and the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine will test convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Conakry, Guinea.

Results from some of the trials are expected by February or March.

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola has raged for more than eight months, infecting more than 14,000 people and killing more than 5,000 in West Africa.

Human testing of a handful of experimental safety tests with drugs and vaccines for Ebola has begun on several continents. The current outbreak kills between 50 and 80 percent of those infected in West Africa, according to Doctors Without Borders.

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