Yes, We’re Still Fighting Ebola

October 19, 2015

Idrissa Kamara receiving the first vaccine in the EBOVAC-Salone trial in Kambia, Sierra Leone (Photo: Alexandra Donaldson, LSHTM)

By Monica Amponsah, Regional Program Manager, EBODAC Project, Grameen Foundation

Though it no longer dominates news headlines, those of us living in West Africa can still recall the fear and terror that rang in our hearts when the word ‘Ebola’ was spoken at the height of the epidemic. It’s not a new disease—and that knowledge has rallied the world and us to search for a way to prevent this type of decimation again.

On October 8, the first person was vaccinated as part of the EBOVAC Salone clinical trial in Sierra Leone. What makes it different from other Ebola clinical trials in the region is the fact that it offers a two-dose vaccine regimen—known as a ‘prime-boost’ vaccine regimen. The first dose (“prime”) prepares the body’s immune system to defend itself against Ebola if the person comes into contact with the virus. The second dose (“boost”) is intended to increase the immune response with the goal of potentially strengthening and optimizing the duration of the body’s immunity to the Ebola virus. As this last outbreak tragically demonstrated, Ebola spreads quickly. Our goal is to stop the spread by making communities less susceptible to it.

For this trial, with support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Ebola+ programme, a joint undertaking between the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries Association (EFPIA), Grameen Foundation is part of a team that includes the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Vision. In Sierra Leone, the team is working with that country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (Sierra Leone) and Ireland-based GOAL.

At times, complex social and cultural hurdles can prevent communities from accepting vaccination programs. One key objective of the EBODAC project is to build broad public confidence and compliance with Ebola vaccination through various communications and engagement tools, including mobile technology.  

Grameen Foundation is playing a critical role in providing the mobile technology support to help volunteers understand and complete the requirements for participating in the study and to enable healthcare workers to track participants. 

Working with Soldevelo, we have created a mobile application to send customized messages to volunteers via the MOTECH software system. Consenting volunteers that own or have access to a mobile phone will receive voice reminders in four local languages and in English about their vaccine schedule and clinic visits. 

Using MOTECH, we will also send reports to clinicians about volunteers who do not have access to mobile phones. This helps the staff to track them and to provide other forms of reminders, such as home visits. 

Some may ask why this trial is still important given the height of the recent Ebola epidemic has passed. As an organization dedicated to innovation and partnering with others to helping eradicate poverty around the world, Grameen Foundation realizes that good health and the eradication or suppression of disease is essential to eradicating poverty. It is therefore essential that vaccines are developed to fight this terrible disease that, up until this month, has infected over 28,000 people and caused more than 11,000 deaths.