‘Ebola is defeated,’ says Congolese professor who discovered virus


Ebola has been defeated. Vaccines and medical treatments have controlled the deadly and terrifying disease, says Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the Congolese professor who first discovered the virus more than 40 years ago.

The 79-year-old virologist spoke at a ceremony in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, which marks the arrival on the market of the “Ebanga” treatment, which was approved last December by the United States Food and Drug Administration. United.

Along with more effective clinical treatments, the availability of vaccines means that the highly infectious hemorrhagic fever that once proved almost always fatal can now be contained.

“For 40 years I have been a witness and an actor in the fight against this terrible and deadly disease and today I can say: it is defeated, it is preventable and curable,” Muyembe said.

“I am the happiest Congolese people.”

Ebanga, a human monoclonal antibody that prevents the virus from entering a cell and reduces the risk of death, is “the Congolese molecule”, as the American biologist Nancy Sullivan put it, after conducting research in the United States with Muyembe.

‘Bare-handed samples’

Muyembe first encountered the virus in 1976 as a field epidemiologist when he was called to the village of Yambuku in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was then called Zaire.

A mysterious illness had just appeared.

He took a sample from a sick nun and sent it to Belgium, where microbiologist Peter Piot first isolated the virus, and is widely recognized as the man who “discovered” the disease.

The virus was named Ebola after a river near Yambuku.

“At that time, I took samples with my own hands, while the blood ran,” Muyembe told AFP before the ceremony in his laboratory, equipped with gloves, a gown, boots and a protective cap.

After 1976, the disease was forgotten again until 1995, when an epidemic of “red diarrhea” broke out in Kikwit, a city of 400,000 in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Muyembe tried to treat eight patients with blood transfusions from someone who was recovering. Seven survived.

That gave him the idea for Ebanga, which was finally tested for the first time in 2018.

“Here we make the diagnosis,” said the professor in his laboratory. “It is very important in the field to know if a patient has Ebola.”

If the disease appears, “we interrupt the chain of transmission, we vaccinate everyone who is around a positive case and we treat those who are sick,” he said.

“If the outbreak is declared in time, it can end in a week,” added the virologist, who heads the National Institute for Biomedical Research of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also coordinates the fight against Covid-19 in the country.

Since it appeared, Ebola has killed more than 15,000 people.

The main symptoms are fever, vomiting, bleeding, and diarrhea.

The largest epidemic affected West Africa between 2013 and 2016, killing 11,000 people.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced its twelfth epidemic this year, which lasted for three months.