Learning from the Ebola Crisis

Sierra Leone: into the Ebola epicentre

The outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa represents a turning point in epidemics and their ability to impact vast geographic areas.


Rampant urbanization in developing countries, global warming and environmental stresses such as pollution and deforestation have created a perfect storm that EVD fed off as it cut a swath across West Africa in 2014.


Whereas in the past viruses were confined to several specific areas, today they are prone to spreading like wildfire across entire regions. Countries such as Nigeria, where 61,9 % of the 160 million inhabitants were dwelling in slums in 2010, are ill-equipped to stave off epidemics.


Indeed, the countries hit hardest – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – have extremely underdeveloped healthcare systems, with a lack of both qualified personnel and infrastructure.
Ebola in Guinea


A high toll


The Ebola virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission. It causes severe illness, with roughly half of all cases resulting in death.


The 2014 Ebola outbreak was by far the largest and most complex since the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976, with more cases and deaths than in all other outbreaks combined. “There is a big universe of bacteria and viruses out there in the world, and we ignore them at our own peril.” said Dr. Gary Nabel, Sanofi’s Chief Scientific Officer. “Ebola has many lessons for us. We need to ask where the system broke down, “We need to be a little bit more proactive in defining the threats to our human health and putting into place systems that will prevent them from taking a foothold the way Ebola has,” said Dr. Nabel.


To be sure, the cost has been particularly high: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 9 177 people lost their lives in the epidemic, with a total of 22 894 cases reported.

 colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion


Taking concerted action


In the face of such a calamity, Sanofi appointed Dr. Nabel its Ebola Response Coordinator. “Sanofi is working with our colleagues across the industry to help find ways to advance medicines to prevent or treat Ebola virus infection,” stressed Dr. Nabel. “We are also sharing our scientific, medical, regulatory and manufacturing expertise with the WHO, governments and public and private nongovernmental organizations in an effort to contain this epidemic.”


“The pharmaceutical industry’s strength is it can take medical discoveries and turn them into medicines for the population at large, and they can really do some good,” added Dr. Nabel.


Pharmaceutical companies are without a doubt confronted with significant challenges in today’s globalized world. Booming urban populations in developing countries are in need of reliable medicines.


Ebola represents a case in point. “What industry needs to do is connect with the very best scientists who are identifying the most promising treatments, the physicians in the field, the governments trying to control the virus and the patients who are victims of it so we can reverse the disease and minimize their suffering,” said Dr. Nabel.


Sanofi has also been actively involved in the Ebola+ program, part of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). This is a massive public-private partnership (PPP) that brings together the European Union and the European pharmaceutical industry to tackle a wide range of challenges in Ebola research, including vaccines development, clinical trials, storage, transport, diagnosis and treatments.


Photo Credits:

EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

CDC - Frederick A. Murphy

1. Report published in 2010 by UN Habitat  http://unhabitat.org/

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