President Barack Obama has declared that experimental Ebola virus vaccines are ‘premature’ for long-term use as the World Health Organisation declares the outbreak an international emergency.

The Ebola virus has already taken almost 950 lives in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in the Mano River Basin region. As the outbreak worsens in Western Africa there have been a number of well-publicised isolated incidents that have occurred in the US and the UK as a result of potential victims travelling overseas.

Speaking at a summit of African leaders in Washington recently President Obama has branded current efforts at an Ebola vaccine too premature to be tested in the field as of yet. Whilst the deadly virus continues to spread the need for an effective and mass-produced vaccine becomes more desperately needed. Two American aid workers in Liberia, Kent Brantly and Nancy Whitebol, recently tested a drug called ZMapp with varying degrees of improvement on the symptoms of the virus. This information comes from reports made by CNN sources on the ground in Liberia. President Obama has yet to deny these reports but has gone on record saying that there needs to be more concrete evidence of a safe and stable vaccine before anything can be mass-produced at this time: ‘We’ve got to let the science guide us and I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful.’

‘The Ebola Virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have the right health infrastructure in place.’

President Obama has admitted however that he sympathises with the current situation in Western Africa saying that a weaker healthcare system in the region has seen itself overwhelmed over the last year with far less resources than are required to cope with the huge tide of victims. In the meantime Mr Obama has said that the ongoing efforts will continue in Western Africa and on the public health work currently going on: “We’re focusing on the public health approach right now, but I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning about these drugs going forward.’

The President’s remarks have been met with frustration and confusion by those delegates that attended the summit from the respective countries in West Africa. Indeed, Liberia’s Assistant Minister for Health, Tolbert Nyenswah, has questioned why the experimental vaccine ZMapp was made available to two American health works in Liberia and not for willing test subjects in the same country as the outbreak worsens: ‘The population is asking: You said there is no cure for Ebola, but the Americans are curing it?’

President Obama’s comments also seem to have played down any certainty around reports that the US Government was to send 50 top doctors to the region in further efforts to help contain the virus and work further on a vaccine to be created within the region.

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak an ‘international emergency’ at a press conference on Friday, 8th August. They have also said that any medical input on the situation right now would require extraordinary measures to be able to contain the problem.

Furthermore, WHO have said that any country that has had any number of victims transmitting the Ebola virus should declare a national state of emergency due to the rapidly spreading nature of the disease. Interestingly however they have said that there should not be any form of ban on international trade and travel to and from the affected countries.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf called a state of emergency in the three countries in the Mano River Basin region that will last 90 days and said that the poverty and widespread famine in the region will only fuel the likelihood of the disease spreading:  ‘Ignorance and poverty, as well as the entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease.’

‘The government and people of Liberia require extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people.’

Whilst the Ebola outbreak continues to worsen there is only going to be further pressure heaped on the like of Mr Obama and indeed Prime Minister David Cameron on what efforts can be made to help speed up the process of finding an effective and large-scale treatment for the problem.

In the meantime, despite the announcement from WHO seeming hypocritical concerning overseas trade and travel  remaining open, it does largely make sense. Namely, the important trade making its way in and out of the country is essential in keeping the already fragile infrastructure stable enough whilst a long-term solution is devised.

As of now however, it seems that the pandemic of the Ebola virus is set to get worse before it gets better.

ROBERT PRITCHARD