By Clive Cookson and Reuters
Sierra Leone is preparing a four-day nationwide “lockdown” in an effort to contain the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people in west Africa.
For four days beginning September 18, citizens of the west African state will not be allowed to leave their homes. The aim is to prevent the spread of Ebola and allow health workers to identify cases in the early stages of the disease.
“The aggressive approach is necessary to deal with the spread of Ebola once and for all,” Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, a presidential adviser on the country’s Ebola task force, told Reuters.
Mr Kargbo said 21,000 people would be recruited to enforce the lockdown.
Sierra Leone’s radical step was revealed after the World Health Organisation decided to assess experimental therapies using the blood of people who recover from Ebola to treat patients with the disease.
The blood of people who recover from Ebola should be used to treat patients with the disease, the World Health Organisation decided during a meeting to assess experimental therapies that might help to contain the epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people in west Africa.
“Convalescent blood” and serum extracted from it contains antibodies against Ebola virus, which might help patients’ immune systems fight off the infection.
The technique was used successfully on a small scale during an Ebola outbreak in Kikwit, Congo, in 1995 and should be tried now in west Africa, said Oyewale Tomori, virology professor at Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, at the end of the two-day meeting in Geneva.
Dr Marie Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director-general, said the 200 experts taking part agreed that “blood therapies may be used to treat Ebola virus and all efforts must be invested to help infected countries to use them. There is a real opportunity that a blood derived product can be used now and this can be very effective in terms of treating patients.”
Convalescent blood or serum would need to be checked thoroughly for the absence of other pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, and for the presence of antibodies against Ebola.
Although the technique has never been evaluated formally as a treatment for Ebola, the WHO experts said the epidemic was serious enough to test it now “as a matter of priority” alongside experimental vaccines and drugs.
The WHO meeting heard that two candidate Ebola vaccines, being developed by international consortiums including GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson, could complete initial safety testing in time to be used to protect frontline health workers in west Africa from the end of November.
At the same time protocols will be put in place for clinical trials of several experimental treatments in west Africa.
“It is hard to know which, if any, of the potential Ebola-killing treatments will work best in sick people before they are tested, so it is good that the WHO is considering a wide range of options,” said Ben Neuman, lecturer in virology at the University of Reading. “The list of treatments under consideration contains solutions for different problems – some could stop a person from becoming infected and others are being considered to treat various stages of infection.”
The latest WHO official figures show 3,944 cases and 2,097 deaths from Ebola, though experts believe that the actual totals are much higher.