Scientists’ response to Ebola was ‘too slow’

Committee of MPs hears that effort to conduct vaccine and treatment trials during outbreak in West Africa was ‘uncoordinated’

January 25, 2016

Researchers responded too slowly and in a poorly coordinated way to the 2013 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a report by MPs has concluded.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee warned that “the UK and other countries were not ‘research ready’ when the outbreak began, prompting a less than optimal and uncoordinated research response”, even though universities and other bodies had responded in “record time” to the epidemic.

The Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people, was the first time that trials for vaccines and treatments had actually taken place on patients during a disease epidemic.  

Trudie Lang, a professor at the University of Oxford and head of the Global Health Network, told the committee that during the outbreak there were “five different groups testing five different things”, which was “not an overly sensible approach”.

This resulted in an “absurd situation” in which an “unorchestrated throng of researchers” were each “negotiating for access to patients” on the ground, she said.

Basic questions, such as whether to give patients fluids orally or intravenously, were not prioritised during the research effort, the committee found.

“The failure to conduct therapeutic trials earlier in the outbreak was a serious missed opportunity that will not only have cost lives in this epidemic but will impact our ability to respond to similar events in the future,” Science in emergencies: UK lessons from Ebola, released today, concluded.

The report also found that a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, designed to assist the UK government during periods of crisis, was convened a full three months after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa had got out of control.

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