By Catherine Bolton
This past year, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been battling the second-largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history.
Ebola is a highly contagious virus carried by insects and animals that causes severe bleeding and organ failure in humans, making it incredibly deadly if not treated quickly. In a place where the population is incredibly transient and distrustful of authorities, like the rebellion-torn Congo, the struggles to act quickly against confirmed cases has resulted in fatalities for two out of every three confirmed cases discovered during this current outbreak.
Luckily, a Congolese doctor has been dedicating the last four decades to discovering a cure for the virus—and based on the results from his most recent medical trials, he may very well have succeeded.
Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum is now 77 years old, but he’s been working on Ebola research since the first known outbreak of the disease in 1976.
A pair of drugs that he recently used in test patients, though, officially cured both individuals and allowed them to return home safely. This, Muyembe explained, can help spread the word that not only is Ebola real—cultural distrust of medical workers in the region has left many skeptical that the virus truly exists—but that there is a way to cure it with modern medicine.
2 Ebola patients in Congo’s Goma treated successfully with new drugs https://t.co/KcKgVSCPge pic.twitter.com/RvEhGivSlI
— CBC World News (@CBCWorldNews) August 13, 2019
The two drugs, named REGN-EB3 and mAb114, were developed by Muyembe using antibodies harvested from blood samples taken from surviving Ebola patients during previous outbreaks. Over the 43 years that Muyembe has been working to combat Ebola outbreaks with the World Health Organization, he’s been patiently developing the idea to use the antibodies to block the virus from attacking human cells—and now, it appears that he’s found a way to do that.
Moving forward, Muyembe hopes to spread the word that Ebola is no longer incurable. This could lead to earlier detection, which could lead to individuals getting treated faster and slow the speed of the current outbreak. Getting afflicted patients to leave their homes and protect their loved ones will help contain the virus, slowing its progression through the Congolese population and hopefully eradicating this current outbreak once and for all.
“Ebola kills quickly and Ebola heals quickly. That’s the message,” said Muyembe, at a press conference in Goma.
“These cases were detected very quickly. The husband was infected, he was at home for 10 days and his wife and son were infected,” said Muyembe. “As soon as the response teams detected these cases, they brought them here to the treatment center. We gave them treatment that is effective and here in a short time both are cured.”
The ultimate goal will still be to vaccinate the population in order to prevent another outbreak from starting. The Ebola virus has an incubation period of anywhere between two and 21 days, and it can be spread from human to human through everything from blood and saliva to semen and breast milk. Infected individuals often spread the disease to their loved ones before they even realize they’ve contracted the virus themselves, which makes it even harder to contain.
The way these two experimental drugs work, though, could make for an effective vaccine to help protect the population. After 43 years, Muyembe has managed to succeed in what he set out to do—and innumerable lives may be saved because of it.