The Steering Committee of the West African Consortium (WAC) on Ebola Vaccines, Therapeutics, Diagnostics and Survivor Care has announced the start of a three-day conference in Conakry, Guinea September 7-9. The conference, which will be held under the theme "Post-Ebola Health Challenges in West Africa," aims to create a forum for scientists, researchers, ethicists, community members, policymakers, and research-related stakeholders to come together to discuss and develop common positions on post-EVD related medical, ethical, psychosocial, and community issues.
The conference format will include cross-cutting presentations from international organizations, symposia and panel discussions from the sub-region, and key policy and scientific presentations that will feed into a joint communique, as a call to action, at the end of the conference. The sub-regional collaboration was established in 2015 by the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, to seek collaboration and cooperation on vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials through a multi-country regional strategy. "We have been resolute in our decision to establish this sub-regional body on clinical research, Ebola virus vaccines and therapeutics as well as other emerging and re-emerging diseases," notes Dr. Moses Massaquoi, chair of WAC representing Liberia. "Our ardent hope is that our governments provide us the necessary support and the political will for the implementation of this common and important duty in fostering clinical research for emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases," he added.
The conference is expected to share best practices and preliminary findings on efforts to identify and address post-EVD health-related challenges in the sub-region. Members of the three most affected countries and collaborating partners of the consortium are also expected to make presentations on EVD research activities with an emphasis on current topics relevant to clinical research in the region. Presentations will address four thematic areas: 1) Improving Clinical Care and Addressing Stigma and Policy-Related Issues of Survivors; 2) Advancing Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics for Emerging Infectious Diseases; 3) Strengthening Research Collaboration, Capacity Building, and Community Empowerment; and 4) Strengthening Collaboration on "One Health" Strategy on the Global Health Security Agenda in the West Africa sub-region.
Key stakeholders include the U. S. National Institutes of Health (NIH); the Joint Liberia-U.S. Clinical Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia (PREVAIL); the Mano River Union (MRU); the West African Health Organization (WAHO); the West African Taskforce for the Control of Emerging & Re-emerging Infectious Diseases (WATER); the World Health Organization (WHO); the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM); the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); and the Ministries of Health (MoHs) of the three countries involved, among others. As a result, the scientific leaderships of these countries underscore the need for sub-regional and regional collaboration to control and end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, as well as to identify and seek solutions to mitigate post-EVD related sequels. "Although the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak paid a very high premium, they have contributed significantly to clinical research on drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests," notes Professor Mandy Kader Konde, co-chair of WAC representing Guinea. "They were able to show that findings from health research studies have significant impacts on strengthening the response to emerging infectious diseases as well as the global health security agenda. We are hopeful that this forum of scientists will foster discussions that will lead to the creation of a framework to promote and sustain capacity building to mitigate future outbreaks and manage post-Ebola health challenges among survivors," he added.
According to the WAC leadership, regional collaboration adds value to the research capacity of each member state of the consortium and strengthens clinical research platforms in the sub-region. They believe that this is the preferred strategy to address problems of the weakened health system and improve long term global health security. Dr. Alie Wurie, co-chair from Sierra Leone, expressed satisfaction over the level of support and collaboration WAC continues to receive from donors, partners and the various Ministries of Health. "We are hopeful that this forum of scientists will allow enough discussion on the real post-Ebola health challenges, but above all to create the framework for a sustainable capacity building of young researchers to see how research can continue to be useful for improving the health of communities," he added.