Written by Guillermo Garrido-Lestache
On 4 March 2015, the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel hosted a workshop on ‘The Ebola Outbreak: Challenges and Perspectives.’ Research scientists, field workers and disease surveillance and prevention experts met with Members of the European Parliament to consider the lessons learned from the ongoing Ebola outbreak, and the appropriate measures to be taken if we want to avoid such outbreaks from happening in the future. The workshop was moderated by Ranieri Guerra from the Italian Ministry of Health.
‘The Ebola crisis is forcing us all to rethink how we should react to such situations’ was the opening statement given by Ms Vicky Ford, IMCO Chair, and her point was repeated throughout the evening. In the same line, Mr Charles Goerens, from the DEVE Committee, said that ‘the international community’s response to the Ebola crisis can be summarised as: too little, too late,’ expressing in a simple catch-phrase a sentiment on which all the panellists agreed. ‘The question is one of systemic proportions,’ he continued, ‘because healthcare systems in the affected nations are outdated and unprepared to deal with such a contagious and deadly disease.’
Thus, the aid of NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is of inestimable value, but their ability to treat the infected and help the rest of the population to avoid contracting the disease is compromised, as explained by MSF representative and field worker Laurence Sailly. This lack of information on the disease available to the local population and their reluctance to be tested, to be quarantined, or to attend medical centres for other health issues as they fear of contracting Ebola once there, are all factors in making the situation more difficult.
Denis Coulombier, from the Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC), presented the surveillance methods used for monitoring the spread of Ebola and other diseases and raised issues regarding the unprecedented risk of treating advanced cases of Ebola in Europe. He was followed by Roberto Bertollini, from the World Health Organisation (WHO), who introduced the attendees into the ongoing research regarding Ebola vaccines, remarking that a dialogue with the pharmaceutical industry is necessary and that both funding for the production of vaccines and patent issues are obstacles to their rapid availability once they are found and successfully tested.
The second group of panellists looked at vaccines in more detail, research and treatment of the disease. Pierre Lafaye and Kathleen Victoir, both from the Institut Pasteur, presented the advances in their research, compared and contrasted the different alternative vaccines which are being developed, and pleaded that the funding and efforts for research should continue once the epidemic is over. Angela Wittelsberger (Innovative Medicine Initiative, IMI) and Line Matthiessen, from the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, showed concern for the economic aspects of the vaccines, both in terms of the costs of their production and the price at which they may become available in the affected and impoverished nations. They both stressed the need to strengthen research in this field.
In his closing remarks, Mr Paul Rübig, STOA Chair, said that the economic impact on both the survivors of the disease and the affected nations as a whole require developmental aid to combat them, so that the situation can return to normality once the outbreak is over. Overall, the workshop demonstrated that there is a lot to be learned from the Ebola outbreak and that continuing dialogue between scientists, politicians and stakeholders is necessary if we want to be prepared for similar outbreaks in the future.