Guinea president Conde deploys army, backs use of force to eradicate Ebola

First human trial of an experimental vaccine against Ebola indicates it is safe; welcome news for hard-hit countries in West Africa.

GUINEA President Alpha Conde on Wednesday said the use of force was entirely justified in battling the deadly Ebola outbreak that surfaced in the impoverished west African nation at the start of the year.

“There are still people who think Ebola is fiction,” Conde told a news conference in a country where an eight-member Ebola education team was murdered by angry villagers in the southern town of Womey, in September. 

Following those shock killings the army was deployed there, triggering the departure of thousands of people. Responding to protests over the deployment, the government this month said the area would be demilitarised and many people have now returned.

“We have an agenda which is to finish with Ebola as soon as possible and in Guinea this is possible,” he added.

“If people don’t want to be treated we will use force because we won’t allow the illness to spread despite all our efforts.”

Conde’s comments came after Guinea authorities said on Monday a cooler
carrying a stolen blood sample infected with the deadly Ebola virus, stolen en route to a test centre, was unlikely ever to be found.

A gang of robbers held up a taxi last week near the town of Kissidougou which was transporting the sample from central Kankan prefecture to southern Gueckedou, around 265 kilometres (165 miles) away.

The spread of Ebola in Guinea has been accompanied by fear and paranoia among some villagers who feel the government and the international community cannot be trusted.

Meanwhile in Freetown, official sources said around 100 Nigerian doctors were expected at the end of the week to help combat Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Nigeria, where eight people died from Ebola out of 20 cases, was last month officially declared Ebola-free.

The regional west African organisation ECOWAS this week started training in Ghana some 150 medical staff from seven countries who are to be sent to Ebola-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Meanwhile reports say that the first human trial of an experimental vaccine against Ebola indicates that it is safe and may help the immune system to combat the virus.

Twenty volunteers were immunised in the US. Scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) described the results as “promising”.

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

None of those immunised suffered major side-effects and all produced antibodies, the research said.

The investigators found that seven of the high dose and two of the lose dose volunteers produced T-cell immune responses, which may be important in protection against Ebola viruses.

The vaccine uses a chimpanzee cold virus which has been genetically engineered to carry a non-infectious Ebola protein on its surface.

The US vaccine is aimed at giving protection against the Sudan and Zaire strains of Ebola. It is the Zaire strain that are responsible for the current outbreak.

Trials of a vaccine against the Zaire strain are also underway in Oxford, Mali and Switzerland.

If these also yield positive results then the vaccine will be offered to thousands of health workers in west Africa.

But of the scale of the crisis in West Africa, the trial process is being accelerated at unprecedented speed.

The experimental vaccine is being manufactured by the British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The company says it can produce one million doses a month by the end of 2015.

The death toll in the worst Ebola epidemic has risen to 5,689 out of 15,935 cases reported in eight countries by November 23, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Almost all cases and all but 15 deaths have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - the three hardest-hit countries, which reported 600 new cases in the past week, the WHO said in its latest update.

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