Written by Gianluca Quaglio and Geoff Archer.
The Ebola crisis has topped media and political agendas as a number of countries in West Africa experience the worst Ebola epidemic in history. The European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel is organising a workshop on 4 March 2015 with experts from international institutions and NGOs to discuss with Members of the European Parliament the challenges posed by the outbreak and what can be done to prevent future crises.
To put the workshop in context: prior to 2014 approximately 2500 people had ever been infected by the Ebola virus since its first appearance in 1976 in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These infections had in turn resulted in 1500 deaths over a period of roughly 40 years. The 2014 outbreak has changed those figures irrevocably. Up to 1 February 2015, the number of cases had skyrocketed with at least 22 500 reported cases, and almost 9000 reported deaths.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ however the effects go well beyond public health. The need for humanitarian resources is acute. The lack of food, clean water and health facilities, have all played a role in destabilising the economic and political situations in the countries affected.
The STOA workshop will focus on the importance of surveillance, rapid diagnostic tests for Ebola and the prospects for vaccination against the disease. It will offer an opportunity to discuss the importance of Ebola research and the lessons learned to prevent future crises. Laurence Sailly from the organisation Médecins Sans Frontières will provide a view of the impacts of Ebola from behind the numbers, having just returned from working in the field there. In addition, Denis Coulombier from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will give a talk on the crucial role of surveillance in preventing future epidemics from occurring.
Developing a vaccine and rapid diagnostic tests is also vital and STOA is delighted to welcome Roberto Bertollini from the World Health Organisation and Pierre Lafaye from the Pasteur Institute to discuss both of these topics. Experts from the Innovative Medicines Initiative and the European Commission’s DG for Research and Innovation will also attend. Angela Wittelsberger and Line Mathiessen, followed by Kathleen Victoir, also representing the Pasteur Institute, will provide an overview of the EU funding invested in Ebola research and plans for future funding.
Finally the speakers will discuss lessons already learned to prevent future Ebola crises from developing. Charles Goerens MEP will provide the final presentation for the workshop, speaking about some of the political realities of confronting the Ebola crisis head on, drawn in no small part from his role serving as a Member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE).