The World Health Organization is pressing for a vaccine to combat the spread of Ebola, hoping to prepare two versions by January. On the ground in West Africa, Germany's Red Cross has made a desperate call for help.
Tens of thousands of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines could be available for "real-world" testing in West Africa as soon as January as long as they are deemed safe, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official said Tuesday.
Dr. Marie Paule Kieny, an assistant director general for the WHO, said clinical trials either underway or planned in Europe, Africa and the US were expected to produce preliminary safety data on two vaccines by December.
If the vaccines are declared safe, Kieny said they would be used in trials in West Africa beginning in January to test their efficacy among tens of thousands - but not millions - of people.
"I'm not suggesting at this moment that there would be mass vaccination campaigns at population levels starting in 2015," she said, adding that none of the volunteers who take part in the trials could contract Ebola from the testing.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has already killed over 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since it emerged late last year. Experts have said the world could face 10,000 new cases of Ebola a week in two months if authorities don't take stronger steps to fight the deadly virus.
'Desperate' call for help
Meanwhile, Germany's Red Cross (DRK) has called on more volunteers to lend support in the fight against Ebola. Of the 483 who have already volunteered, only 196 are qualified, according to an article published in Wednesday's edition of the daily Welt.
"This is nowhere near enough to keep the clinics running," said DRK president Rudolf Seiters, adding that all personnel had to be rotated on a four-week cycle to prevent infection.
Seiters called the situation on the ground in West Africa "catastrophic," describing the health care systems in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea as having "practically imploded."
"We are in desperate need of help," he implored to the German people. "Any donation you can make will help us do more."
Together with the Red Cross, the German government is in the process of setting up clinics in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Last week, Berlin upped its financial contribution to international Ebola response efforts six-fold to 102 million euros. That announcement followed criticism from aid groups and opposition politicians that Germany wasn't doing enough to help stem the spread of Ebola.
Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, acknowledged those claims, saying: "We have underestimated the disastrous consequences of this disease. The race to catch up begins now."
glb/lw (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)