10 Septembre 2019

British doctor who helped fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo says an experimental vaccine proven to be 97% effective ‘has changed the path of the killer outbreak’

A British doctor who has helped fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo says an experimental vaccine ‘has changed the path of the outbreak’.

Dr Catherine Houlihan, from Aberdeen, returned home to the UK from the African nation in June after spending a month at the heart of the epidemic.

The 39-year-old said the jab has helped stop the situation spiralling out of control, amid fears it could spread to neighbouring countries.

Official figures show 2,070 people have died from Ebola in the DRC’s current outbreak, which is the second worst ever recorded in history.

Dr Houlihan is a lecturer in infectious diseases and virology at both the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London.

She said: ‘I think that the vaccine has changed the path of this outbreak. We could have already had a death toll similar to West Africa had we not had it.’

At least 11,000 people died in the worst ever outbreak of the killer virus between 2013-16, which decimated Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Dr Houlihan said the data shows that the experimental vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical firm Merck, is around 97 per cent effective.

‘Health care workers are one of the highest-risk groups for catching Ebola and this extra protection enables them to carry out their roles far more effectively,’ she said.

The vaccine, called V920, was developed with support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

More than 200,000 people have now been given the vaccine, proven to be around 97 per cent effective at preventing the lethal virus.

Dr Houlihan was situated in Goma and Butembo in the war-torn North Kivu province, where more than 120 militia groups operate.

She said five per cent of all cases in the DRC are health care workers, most of whom work in smaller health facilities and not Ebola treatment centres.

She praised the bravery of local staff who have dealt with the outbreak from when it began last August and continue to work despite the dangers.

Efforts to contain the virus have been hampered by violent attacks on health workers and treatment centres.

Two Ebola health workers were killed last month in North Kivu and the World Health Organisation reported 42 attacks on treatment centres between January and May.

Dr Houlihan said: ‘The security situation in DR Congo is the biggest difference between this outbreak and the West Africa one.