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War on Ebola gets a shot in the arm as cooperation continues

By Chris Davis | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-08-12 11:11

The news announced last week that preliminary tests on a new vaccine for Ebola were 100 percent effective came as a cause for excitement.

The study, published in The Lancet, was run by the World Health Organization, and called "a remarkable scientific and logistical achievement", by the journal's editors. The experimental rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was originally developed by Merck.

"In the midst of an extreme public health emergency, researchers, health workers, and community facilitators in Guinea included 7,651 people in a trial to test the [vaccine's] efficacy," and conclude it "might be highly efficacious and safe".

The scale of the study was called unprecedented for Guinea and its success was attributed not only to the skills of the field teams, but also their determination to save their country from the devastating killer.

"One important message goes beyond even Ebola - the power of multilateralism and inclusive partnership to devise and execute critical clinical research," Lancet editors wrote. "Ebola has been a catastrophe for West Africa. But out of this epidemic has come the opportunity to build unprecedented collaborations."

Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, just completed a tour of the three nations hardest hit by the recent outbreak that has claimed more than 11,200 lives - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Speaking in Guinea on Monday, Wang pledged China's continued support to help nations strengthen their infrastructures to help fight epidemics like Ebola.

Wang met with Guinea President Alpha Conde and said he would encourage Chinese enterprises to invest in the post-Ebola economy to construct ports, roads, railways and help with water supply needs, according to a Guinea government statement.

In Liberia on Sunday, Wang said Liberia was a good example of how China supports countries in Africa, The Associated Press reported.

"You will see houses and roads built by China and Chinese companies helping the people of Liberia," he said through a translator. "China is ready to continue to play that role and shoulder the responsibility."

China was one of the first to fly in desperately needed medical gear when Ebola started to spread last year and has provided at least $121 million in cash and supplies to fight the disease - not to mention the dozens of army doctors and hundreds of army medical workers they dispatched.

As Xinhua has reported, China has been one of the leading international partners in helping West African nations battle Ebola medically and is now shifting its aid to focus on the recovery and reconstruction.

"China has been one of leading international partners not only for the affected countries, but for the African Union since the beginning of the outbreak. China made several donations in kind, and in cash, for medical supplies," Jeanine Cooper, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs representative to the African Union, told Xinhua.

"The Chinese also made one of the first international medical donations to the African Union when they deployed medical workers," she said.

Cooper, who had toured the hardest-hit areas, said she was impressed by the Chinese medical workers and their expertise.

The $121 million China has contributed is the largest medical assistance the nation has provided anywhere since the country was founded. Earlier this month, China pledged an additional $5 million to the UN Ebola Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund to further help the recovery.

Echoing the Lancet's commendation, Cooper called China's contributions "a strong sign of partnership," pointing out that coming back from the pandemic was a multi-faceted chore that included rebuilding the fragile healthcare, food and water systems, as well as a number of socioeconomic issues.

"We have learned to work together much better," she said.

With that kind of cooperation and now the weapon of a vaccine, maybe we are finally looking at what the vaccine study's authors call "the beginning of the end" for Ebola.

But the key word is "beginning". Of the 28,000 people infected since late 2013, nearly half have died and there are thought to be many that go unreported and uncounted. Seven new cases - four in Guinea and three in Sierra Leone - were reported for the week ending July 26.

It's the lowest weekly total in a year, but still seven too many.

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