20 – 26 September 2014

Peter Piot, David Heymann  and Chris Whitty speak at an Ebola press conference organised by the Science Media Centre. Peter Piot is quoted by Bloomberg and the Associated Press on the need for a vaccine: “It may be that without a vaccine, we may not be able to stop this epidemic. In this outbreak, we are reaching the limit of what classic containment measures can achieve.” Leads to 375 pieces of global coverage, including the Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today and CBS News.

Peter Piot is quoted by Reuters and Bloomberg on new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which suggest that 1.4 million people might be infected by the end of January: “It is really impossible to predict how many cases of Ebola infection there will be in four months. Unless CDC has data nobody else has, this is not a useful estimate.” Leads to coverage on Fox News and Yahoo! News.

He also speaks about the possibility of the virus becoming endemic with Reuters quoting him as saying: The big question here for me is, will this virus become endemic — meaning it’s being transmitted at low levels (in humans all the time)?…We (humans) are a very bad host from the virus’ point of view. A host that’s killed by a virus in a week or so is absolutely useless. So in all other outbreaks it eventually just disappeared from the human host and retreated into animals.” A similar comment is also reported in New Scientist.

Press Association quote him as saying: “It’s the first time that entire nations are involved and affected; it’s the first time that capital cities are involved with huge urban populations. The result is that we have something that I think is a humanitarian crisis. It’s no longer a disease outbreak.” Leads to coverage in The Telegraph, The Express and Yahoo! News.

David Heymann is interviewed by the BBC World Service on the fatality rate of 70% in the current Ebola outbreak: “The 70% is an overall estimate of people who are living in the community not being treated and people who are in hospitals or healthcare facilities where they are being treated. Mortality and death rates will be lower for people who enter health facilities and they’ll decrease even more as health workers gain experience in treating people with Ebola.”

He also talks to Associated Press about the importance of giving people information about Ebola: “It’s important for African governments to innovate and find new ways of getting messages out to the people. (The lockdown) seemed to pass without violence and it went against much of international advice. Maybe it’s the innovation that will make a difference.” Leads to coverage in the  Daily Mail and ABC News.

Chris Whitty tells Reuters that in countries facing the worst of the Ebola outbreak “many more people are dying of other things that are not Ebola.”

IRIN quotes David Heymann on why it’s easier to prevent outbreaks in rural areas: “There’s a better organization in communities, there’s a common language, there are village elders, village chiefs who help keep things in order, and it’s much easier and more effective to stop an outbreak in rural areas. Kikwit, the major outbreak in DRC in 1995, was only five hours journey by road from the capital, yet by stopping the outbreak in a rural area it doesn’t spread into the complex issues involved in the city, where there’s a breakdown in traditional governance and where there are all kinds of challenges due to different languages and different cultures.”

He also tells AFP that plasmapheresis, where serum is taken from survivors and their antibodies given to patients, could be a valuable tool in the battle to contain the epidemic: “This would be a sustainable method of providing support to patients if it were effective, but unfortunately it has never been tested in a clinical setting, even though it has been used ad hoc many times.” Leads to coverage on Yahoo! News

Peter Piot co-authors an article with Jeremy Farrar in New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with new research from WHO suggesting that there will be nearly 20,000 Ebola cases by November: “Without a more effective, all-out effort, Ebola could become endemic in West Africa, which could, in turn, become a reservoir for the virus’s spread to other parts of Africa and beyond…  Perhaps most important, Ebola has reached the point where it could establish itself as an endemic infection because of a highly inadequate and late global response. Not only did it take more than 3 months to diagnose Ebola as the cause of the epidemic (in contrast to the recent outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it took a matter of days), but it was not until 5 months and 1000 deaths later that a public health emergency was declared, and it was nearly another 2 months before a humanitarian response began to be put in place.” Leads to coverage in The GuardianTime MagazineUSA Today and Vox.

Peter Piot is interviewed for Der Spiegel magazine and their international website on his role in the initial discovery of the Ebola virus: We had no idea how dangerous the virus we were dealing with was. And there were no high security labs in Belgium back then. We just wore our white lab coats and protective gloves. When we opened the thermos, the ice inside had largely melted and one of the vials had broken. Blood and glass shards were floating in the ice water. We fished the other, intact test tube out of the slop and began examining the blood for pathogens using the methods that were standard at the time.”

Deutsche Welle’s Africa Link features Peter Piot speaking about how the current outbreak is different to earlier ones: “All previous epidemics were quite limited in time and place, generally affecting small villages or small towns, and would die out after fairly classic isolation and quarantine – but in this case it’s different…Let’s not forget that in Liberia there’s about one doctor for every 100,000 people and in the meantime several of them have died from Ebola.” The interview is also covered in a Deutsche Welle online article.

Peter Piot is interviewed by the Financial Times and says that now drug trials have started, an effective treatment could be found within months: “This should be the last epidemic where all we have is isolation and quarantine.”

He also speaks to BBC World Service’s Focus on Africa.

Sebastian Funk tells Associated Press that there is not much evidence that measures to quarantine people in their homes in Sierra Leone will work: “If transmission of Ebola mostly happens at home, it could make things worse. And it could also potentially seed mistrust and cause people to hide cases. It may buy you some time but it is probably not going to stop the epidemic.” Leads to nearly 200 pieces of global coverage including the Washington Post and Al Jazeera.

Adam Kucharski and John Edmunds write a letter in the Lancet explaining why the Ebola case fatality rate is likely to be around 70% rather than the widely reported 50%: The low reported CFR values were generated from a so-called naive CFR calculation, in which the total number of deaths reported so far is divided by the total number of cases. Based on WHO reports up to Sept 7, 2014, which include 2226 deaths and 4390 cases, the naive CFR estimate is 51% (95% CI 49—53%). This naive approach does not account for the delay between onset of Ebola symptoms and disease outcome (ie, recovery or death).”

Adam Kucharski tells Associated Press that the response to Ebola in the next few months will be crucial: “The window for controlling this outbreak is closing.” Leads to over 600 pieces of coverage, including The Independent, Daily Mail,  Boston Herald, CBS News and the Washington Examiner

In an article on the impact of Ebola on weak West African health systems, Johanna Hanefeld tells BBC Africa that donors tend to focus on disease-specific funding, including medicines for a million children at risk of malaria, as this makes it easier to justify expenditure to their domestic constituencies.

Lucy Tusting speaks to BBC World News’ Health Check on malaria and housing: “Although there have been few rigorously conducted studies, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that house design can help protect against malaria. In Uganda we have found that mosquito numbers are reduced by half in modern housing, compared to more traditional housing.”

Neil Pearce talks to the Wall Street Journal about new research that finds an association between asthma rates and phthalates, chemicals used in many plastic products, saying the finding is “potentially very important because exposure to phthalates is widespread.”

Ruth McNerney tells BBC News Online that a new breath test for TB could add more certainty to the diagnosis of multidrug-resistant TB and is worth pursuing.

Richard Stabler is quoted in The Telegraph commenting on a study that finds that up to half of antibiotics fail to treat patients: “The overall picture presented is bleak but not unexpected, with rises in drug resistance rising in most categories. The increase in resistance is possibly lower than expected, certainly in comparison to hospital based studies, but without action and a continual increase in resistance, antimicrobial resistance is still a real threat. Treatable infections becoming untreatable is a real possibility with several important infections, for example Tuberculosis and gonorrhoea, having already been documented to be almost totally resistant to all known classes of antimicrobials in some cases.”

Hannah Kuper speaks to Thomson Reuters Foundation on a new study that used child sponsorsip data to reveal that children with disabilities were less likely to attend school than children without disabilities: “The child sponsorship database is a unique and fantastic resource. It provides internationally comparable data of more than a million children across 49 countries, and includes detailed information about their lives. This information can be used to fill many existing knowledge gaps and help Plan and other organisations to better target the needs of children in resource-poor settings in order to improve their lives and their futures.”

Martin McKee talks to The Times about the product placement of e-cigarettes in films: I think they should be regulated in the same way as tobacco products. Of course they are less harmful, but put yourself in the minds of the tobacco companies and it’s clearly about renormalisation of the imagery around smoking. There’s a clear correlation between young people’s smoking habits and the amount of programming they watch featuring smoking.”

James Hargreaves writes for The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network on the skills needed for monitoring and evaluation

Krishnan Bhaskaran’s study linking obesity and being overweight to 22 common cancers is mentioned in The Spectator.

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