Congolese professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the virologist who first discovered Ebola more than 40 years ago, has declared that it has been defeated, marking the end of a decades-long battle against the “deadly disease.”
The 79-year-old scientist made the announcement on Thursday during an event to mark the arrival of the Ebola ‘Ebanga’ treatment in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, nine months after it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
“For 40 years I have been a witness and a player in the fight against this terrifying and deadly disease and I can say today: it is defeated, it is preventable and curable,” Muyembe said, adding that he is “the happiest of Congolese people.”
Muyembe first encountered the Ebola virus while serving as a field epidemiologist in 1976 after arriving in the Congolese village of Yambuku, in the north of the country, following the outbreak of a then-mystery illness. Having taken a sample of the disease, he sent it to a microbiologist in Belgium who examined it before it was named Ebola after a river near where it was discovered.
With clinical treatments and vaccines now available to affected areas, outbreaks of Ebola, a highly infectious hemorrhagic fever, can be contained, preventing the widespread devastation the outbreaks had previously been able to cause.
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The ‘Ebanga’ treatment works as a human monoclonal antibody that prohibits Ebola from entering cells, limiting the risk of death in those infected. US biologist, Nancy Sullivan, who has worked with Muyembe on tackling the virus, has called the treatment ‘the Congolese molecule.’
Since Ebola emerged, it has killed more than 15,000 people, with Western Africa suffering the greatest number of losses, with 11,000 fatalities. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been hit by multiple outbreaks, including a three-month long epidemic earlier in 2021.
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