No WHO Travel Restrictions for Africa’s Ebola Outbreak

Experimental Ebola Zaire vaccines and treatments are being tested in Africa
2 young children in africa congo
Africa (Vax Before Travel)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is advising against any restriction of travel to, and trade with, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Additionally, the WHO reported no country has implemented travel measures as of June 27, 2019, that significantly interferes with international traffic to and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

But, the WHO says future visitors to the DRC should seek medical advice before departure. 

Contrary to this WHO’s advice, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Canada, and the UK Foreign Travel Advice have issued Travel Alerts, which strongly warn people to avoid visiting the DRC in 2019. 

Additionally, the WHO said there is currently no licensed vaccine to protect people from the Ebola Zaire virus.   

Therefore, any requirements for entry certificates of Ebola vaccination are not a reasonable basis for restricting movement across country borders or the issuance of visas for travelers to/from the affected countries, such as the DRC and Uganda. 

However, the experimental Ebola Zaire vaccine from Merck called rVSV-ZEBOV has shown to be safe and protective against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus. 

The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization for use in Ebola outbreaks caused by the Zaire strain of the virus, in the event where there is no licensed vaccine.   

This vaccine consists of a vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which is an animal virus that causes flulike illness in humans. The VSV has been genetically engineered to contain a protein from the Zaire Ebola virus so that it can provoke an immune response to the virus. 

A recent decision by the Ethics Committee of the School of Public Health of the University of Kinshasa approved the amendment of the compassionate belt vaccination protocol for the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine. 

This May 23, 2019 decision is focused on expanding access to the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine to pregnant women after the first trimester and lactating women identified as Ebola contacts.   

And for minors, children can be vaccinated from the age of 6 years.   

Since the beginning of this Ebola epidemic in August 2018, the cumulative number of cases is 2,312, of which 2,218 are confirmed and 94 are probable. In total, there were 1,559 deaths (1,465 confirmed and 94 probable) and 642 people healed.

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a rare and deadly disease in people and nonhuman primates. People can get EVD through direct contact with an infected animal (bat or nonhuman primate) or a sick or dead person infected with Ebola virus, says the CDC.

There is no approved treatment for EVD. 

But, there are several experimental treatments approved for shipment to the DRC and Uganda: 

  • Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s ZMapp, which is composed of three “humanized” monoclonal antibodies manufactured in plants, specifically Nicotiana.
  • Gilead Sciences’s Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s Regeneron and Remdesivir.

The WHO is closely monitoring and, if necessary, verify travel and trade measures in relation to this ongoing event.

Article by
Dani Reiter