LONDON, England, Monday December 29, 2014 – The Ebola crisis in West Africa is likely to continue until the end of 2015, according to Professor Peter Piot, a leading researcher who helped to discover the deadly virus.
Professor Piot, who recently returned from Sierra Leone, told the BBC World Service’s Newsday programme that he was encouraged by progress in that country and by the promise of new anti-viral therapies.
He nevertheless cautioned that vaccines would take time to develop.
Piot, who was one of the scientists who discovered the killer disease in 1976, is now Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
He said that although the epidemic has peaked in Liberia and was likely to peak in Sierra Leone in the coming weeks, the outbreak could have a “very long tail and a bumpy tail.”
“The Ebola epidemic is still very much there. People are still dying, new cases are being detected,” he told the BBC.
“We need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort [for] probably the rest of 2015.”
He nevertheless added that he was impressed by the progress he had witnessed during his recent trip to Sierra Leone.
“Treatment centres have now been established across the country with British help. You don’t see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets,” he said.
Piot also said he was encouraged that, thanks to simple treatments such as intravenous fluids and antibiotics, mortality rates had fallen to as low as one in three.
“Getting it below that will require specific therapies that are now going to be tested,” he said, adding that he hoped that within three months it would be clear which anti-viral therapies were effective.
While noting that developing a vaccine would be more complicated, he said it must be done “so that when there is another epidemic or maybe when this epidemic drags on for a long time, that we have that vaccine available.”
The current Ebola outbreak, the deadliest ever, has so far killed more than 7,300 people, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.