Liberia president to end Ebola state of emergency
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - Liberia's president said Thursday she is lifting a state of emergency imposed to control an Ebola outbreak that has ravaged the country, as Mali raced to track down everyone who may have come into contact with three people now believed to have died of Ebola in its capital.
Also Thursday, Doctors Without Borders announced that accelerated clinical trials will be launched in West Africa to speed the search for a treatment for the virus that has killed more than 5,000 people.
In a nationwide address, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said enough progress has been made to lift emergency measures but added that the move does not mean the outbreak is over. There have been fewer Ebola cases in Monrovia, 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.
Liberia's 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.
Meanwhile, authorities in Mali were trying to track down everyone who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus after a new cluster emerged this week in Bamako, the capital.
At least 186 contacts already have been registered in Bamako as the search continues, according to an internal World Health Organization document obtained by The Associated Press. A nurse is confirmed to have died from Ebola, and a former patient and that man's friend are now also considered probable Ebola deaths, according to WHO.
Teams are headed to the hometown of the dead patient in search of other possible cases. Health workers will also "look into the possibility of opening an observation center for other suspected cases," the document said.
There is no known cure for Ebola, and early intervention with supportive care to hydrate patients is among the limited options available.
Doctors Without Borders said Thursday it will host clinical trials starting next month in three Ebola treatment centers 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 U.N. World Health Organization 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 U.S. 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.
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.
Also Thursday, the European Union's Ebola coordinator expressed concern that the number of cases is on the rise again in parts of Sierra Leone. On a visit to Freetown, its capital, Christos Stylianides pledged that the EU would do more.
"There are immediate needs that cannot wait," he said. "Medical personnel are needed urgently on the ground. We are concentrating on this issue and this is one of the messages I am taking back to Europe."