With the news that Maryland will be home to some of the latest efforts to develop a vaccine to combat Ebola, the deadly outbreak taking place on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is seemingly getting closer and closer.
At American Jewish World Service, the outbreak resulted in a halt in regular programming in order to host emergency funding for the organization’s partners in West Africa.
“In Liberia we have grassroots organizations on the ground that have been doing organizing, fighting for women’s rights, fighting for land rights,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. The organization provided the extra funds to the already-established groups they work with on a regular basis that have, in recent weeks, turned their attention to combating the spread of Ebola.
“They are human rights and anti-poverty groups that are community-based, so the people in those organizations know their own communities, and they are better equipped, I think, probably than anybody to step forward and do public health outreach, public health education, disease prevention,” she added.
Having worked in Liberia for years, AJWS recognized that a general mistrust in government can make public education difficult. The groups the organization has chosen to fund will use the money to operate largely through person-to-person outreach and radio programming to teach people how to recognize symptoms of the virus and what steps to take when they come into contact with someone who might have the illness.
Though AJWS only works in one country that is experiencing an outbreak, Liberia, Messinger said she and her staff are also working with community organizations in neighboring countries to educate people before the problem spreads.
“We’re actually in the process, I believe, of making a grant to one group that we have worked with for a long time in Senegal,” she said. “This is a group that basically does public organizing and education. They’re journalists and rappers, and they use music” to raise public awareness.
While Messinger and AJWS were proud of the more than $100,000 they raised in just one week to combat the outbreak, the news hasn’t all been good.
AJWS doesn’t send volunteers to its Liberia office on a regular basis, but it does organize regular donor trips that allow those who help fund the programs to see their dollars at work. Last month, the group announced the cancellation of a February 2015 trip to Liberia.
“I don’t think a long line of people are ready to go over to a country that they’ve, in most cases, probably never been to and don’t know anything about to put on a protective suit and try to reach people who might potentially infect them with a terminal disease,” she said.
Meanwhile, this week in Bethesda, the National Institutes of Health began early stage trials of a vaccine intended to prevent infection by the Ebola virus.
Twenty people will participate in the first round of trials using human patients. Guidelines require that subjects be healthy adults not infected with the virus. The trial will monitor the subjects’ immune response to the drug.
“There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases researcher, in a statement. “The NIH is playing a key role in accelerating the development and testing of investigational Ebola vaccines.”
The key to prevention is through public health education, Fauci added, but a vaccine would be a great tool to use alongside tools like adequate protective equipment and quarantine.
According to a release by the NIH, the vaccine delivers one fragment of Ebola’s genetic material to the patient’s cells. Instead of replicating, the fragment is met with an immune response in the vaccine recipient. The individual cannot be infected with Ebola, the release stated.
Prior to the launch of the human trial, the vaccine was tested on primates, a trial that the organization said was successful.