BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

February 17, 2020

Research Roundup: Ebola outbreak wanes, remdesivir prevents MERS coronavirus disease in monkeys, and Trump's budget would cut global health programs

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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The second-largest Ebola outbreak in history—which has infected 3,500 people and killed 2,250 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since August 2018—is down to its last chain of transmission despite ongoing violence that has hampered response efforts. The waning of the Ebola outbreak comes as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has captured global attention and potentially funding as well. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman, “Funding needs [for the Ebola response] have not as yet been fully met, and currently there is a risk there will not be funding for WHO activities beyond February.” Despite the waning of Ebola cases in DRC, last Wednesday, an independent committee that advises WHO unanimously agreed the Ebola outbreak continues to be a public health emergency—a designation recently extended to the COVID-19 outbreak. Though WHO and others have worked tirelessly to contain Ebola, the region’s health system remains weak and the likelihood of future outbreaks is high.

The experimental antiviral drug remdesivir successfully prevented disease in rhesus macaques infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to a study performed by the US National Institutes of Health and supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Remdesivir both prevented disease when administered before infection and improved the condition of the macaques when given after the animals already were infected. MERS-CoV is closely related to COVID-19, which emerged in Wuhan, China in December of last year and has grown to be a public health emergency. The promising results of this study support the case for additional clinical trials of remdesivir for MERS-CoV and COVID-19. Gilead Sciences developed remdesivir and collaborated in the research.

On Monday, February 10, President Trump released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which seeks deep cuts of US$3 billion to global health funding. The proposed cuts include a 34 percent reduction to global health programs at the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID) and a seven percent cut in funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Center for Global Health. President Trump’s budget also proposed a 58 percent reduction in funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and a 50 percent cut in funding to WHO. Despite these widespread proposed cuts, the budget did include some boosts in funding—a $50 million increase for CDC’s global health security activities and $15 million for USAID’s Global Health Security programs. President Trump’s budget has been condemned by public health experts and many lawmakers, who have spoken out against the cuts which are unlikely to go into effect.

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