Drug to help Africa fight fatal virus, strengthen B&R initiative

By Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/8 19:23:39

A health worker injects a woman with an Ebola vaccine during a trial in Monrovia, Liberia on February 2, 2015. Photo: VCG

The Chinese drug authority has recently approved a domestically developed Ebola vaccine, the latest move by Chinese scientists in fighting the deadly virus.

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) on October 19 approved the vaccine developed by the Academy of Military Medical Sciences and a Tianjin-based biotechnology company, CanSino Biologics INC.

The approval, a milestone in research of vaccines for major infectious diseases, could boost the reputation of China's public health system.

At the same time, the approval shows that China is actively taking on international responsibility in global health, the CFDA announced on its website.

But it is not the first time that Chinese scientists have achieved a breakthrough in research on the Ebola virus, which has claimed at least 11,300 lives in West Africa since 2014, its largest outbreak after it was first discovered in 1976.

In July, a group of scientists from the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai, Chinese Academy of Sciences, used a mouse experiment to find an Ebola virus vaccine approach that could guarantee long-term protection, research which has been published in the medical journal Antiviral Research, according to the institute's website. 

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola is a severe, often fatal virus in humans that is transmitted from wild animals and certain human-to-human contact. There is currently no cure, although some blood, immunological and drug therapies are currently undergoing development. 

For decades, China has been providing aid to African countries, especially in the public health sector, which could further deepen the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative (B&R), analysts said.

Scientific innovation

The vaccine, approved by CFDA, is based on the 2014 mutant gene type and manifests in the form of freeze-dried powder, which can remain stable for at least two weeks in temperatures of up to 37 degrees, suitable for the climate in West Africa, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Its approval makes China the third country to develop a vaccine against Ebola, following the US and Russia, the CFDA said.

The vaccine was initially approved by the CFDA in February 2015 and then underwent three rounds of clinical trials in China and Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst hit by Ebola, Xinhua reported.

The research of the vaccine was led by Chen Wei, a researcher at the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences. It has brought hope to residents in Africa and has also prevented the virus from spreading to China, Chen told the China Science Daily.

Closer ties with Africa

He Wenping, a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Chinese scientists' aid to Africa is expected to be more frequent with the development of B&R.

Ebola, although living predominantly in West Africa, is never too far away from China, as more and more Chinese who go to work in the region could get infected, He said.

"Africa's health security is closely connected with Chinese people," He noted, as it is estimated that at least 2 million Chinese currently work and live in African countries.

After the major Ebola outbreak in 2014, China was the first country to send health workers to the affected countries in West Africa and was one of the first countries to make medical donations. China has also offered $120 million in aid to affected countries so far, Xinhua reported.

In addition, China has sent over 1,000 medical staff to the affected countries, treated more than 900 patients and trained some 13,000 medical workers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and other countries.

Zhou Zijun, a professor at the School of Public Health of Peking University, told the Global Times that Chinese scientists actively engage in Ebola virus research, showing China's contribution to global health and security and that China's vaccine technology is also stable and reliable.

"The approval of the new vaccine means that both foreigners and Chinese in China could have access to the vaccine soon, which is significant for China in preventing infection of the deadly virus," Zhou said.

China's health aid to Africa has a long history, from fighting malaria to Ebola. China also helped African countries improve their overall health security systems after the Ebola outbreak, He said.

"China currently works to train local medical staff, offer medical tests, establish laboratories and even improve local people's awareness on health," He said.

Newspaper headline: Ebola breakthrough


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