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Ebola has been defeated. Vaccines and medical treatments have brought this deadly and terrifying disease under control, says Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the Congolese professor who first discovered the virus more than 40 years ago.
The 79-year-old virologist was speaking at a ceremony in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, marking the arrival on the market of the “Ebanga” treatment, approved last December by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Coupled with more effective clinical treatments, the availability of vaccines now makes it possible to contain the highly infectious hemorrhagic fever that was once almost always fatal.
âFor 40 years, I have been a witness and actor in the fight against this terrifying and deadly disease and I can say today: it is defeated, it is preventable and curable,â said Muyembe.
“I am the happiest of the Congolese.”
Ebanga, a human monoclonal antibody that prevents the virus from entering a cell and reduces the risk of dying, is “the Congolese molecule,” as American biologist Nancy Sullivan put it, having researched in America with Muyembe.
– ‘Bare hand samples’ –
Muyembe first discovered the virus in 1976 as a field epidemiologist when he was called to the village of Yambuku in northern DRC, then called Zaire.
A mysterious disease had just appeared.
He took a sample from a sick nun, sent it to Belgium, where microbiologist Peter Piot first isolated the virus – and is widely believed to be the man who ‘discovered’ the disease.
The virus was named Ebola after a river near Yambuku.
“At the time, I took samples with my bare hands, because the blood was flowing,” Muyembe told AFP before the ceremony in his laboratory, equipped with gloves, a gown, boots and a protective cap.
After 1976, the disease fell back into oblivion until 1995 when an epidemic of “red diarrhea” broke out in Kikwit, a town of 400,000 inhabitants in western DRC.
Muyembe tried to treat eight patients with blood transfusions from a recovering person. Seven survived.
This gave him the idea for Ebanga, which was finally tested for the first time in 2018.
âHere we make the diagnosis,â the professor said in his lab. “It is very important on the ground to know if a patient has Ebola.”
If the disease appears, “we interrupt the chain of transmission, we vaccinate all those around a positive case, and we treat those who are sick,” he said.
“If the epidemic is declared on time, it can be over in a week,” added the virologist, who heads the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research and also coordinates the fight against Covid-19 in the country.
Since its onset, Ebola has killed more than 15,000 people.
The main symptoms are temperature, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea.
The largest epidemic struck West Africa between 2013 and 2016, killing 11,000 people.
The DRC, meanwhile, experienced its 12th epidemic this year, which lasted for three months.
Â© 2021 AFP