PREVAIL Research boosts Liberia’s Public Health Image

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Dr. Jestina Doe Anderson

The success of the Liberia-US Clinical Research Partnership was highlighted both in Liberia and neighboring Guinea in September during Social mobilization and communication (SMC) activities and at the recently-ended West Africa regional Consortium conference respectively. There was also widespread public acceptance of the PREVAIL research program, which aims to develop vaccines and therapeutics to tackle Ebola, according to a release from PREVAIL yesterday.

On September 4th, PREVAIL launched the Genomic Study to investigate if genes impact how individuals respond to the Ebola virus. It is the sixth research study to be conducted by PREVAIL since the launch of its first clinical vaccine trials in February 2015.

PREVAIL was set up in 2014 in response to a request made by former Health Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale to US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell to help Liberia develop vaccines and therapeutics to tackle Ebola.

In layman’s terms, one of the Principal Investigators, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, told a MICAT press briefing that genes carry information passed on from one’s parents that affect how one looks as well as how the body works, grows and responds to infection. He said researchers will look for genes that may be related to a person’s health outcome after coming in contact with the Ebola virus. They will also look for genes related to the risk that a person will die of Ebola.

Dr. Fallah said the PREVAIL 6 study, aims to enroll approximately 8,500 participants at least three-years-old and from four groups. One group will include up to 2,000 Ebola survivors, primarily those already enrolled in the Ebola Natural History Study, (PREVAIL 3). A second group will include up to 3,000 people who were not infected but were close contacts of Ebola patients or were exposed to the virus either through their work or other association but never contracted Ebola. The third group will enroll up to 3,000 individuals from the two vaccine studies, PREVAIL 1 and 5, who had no known Ebola exposure. Lastly, stored samples from up to 500 deceased Ebola cases will be included in the study.

According to Dr. Fallah, samples from these participants will be used to analyze their genes to determine how the genes compare among those who got sick with Ebola and survived; those who got sick with Ebola and died; and those who did not get sick with Ebola. The samples will be processed at the Division of Biomedical & Public Health Research at NPHIL, and then part of each sample will be sent to the United States for genetic testing on specialized equipment that is not currently available in Liberia.

He told the weekly press briefing the study also will enable researchers to compare genes to further understand why some survivors continued to have health problems even after they have recovered from the illness, and why some men who survived Ebola continue to have traces of the virus in the semen for longer duration than others. More than 200 volunteers have already enrolled in the study.

Within days of the PREVAIL 6 launch in Liberia, West African scientists and researchers meeting in Guinea on Ebola Vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostic and survivor care praised PREVAIL for the level of effort it has made in the development of Ebola Vaccines.

They highlighted PREVAIL 1 Vaccine study which successfully enrolled 1,500 men and women ages 18 and older. The study, originally designed to enroll 27,000 volunteers to see whether the vaccines could prevent Ebola virus disease, had to be scaled back significantly when the decline in new Ebola cases made it impossible to conduct the larger study.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 community dwellers in Montserrado County benefitted from advocacy and Community Engagement activities organized by the PREVAIL SMC team. At various engagement forums, the SMC representatives informed the gatherings about PREVAIL V, which seeks to find an Ebola vaccine to prevent future outbreaks and PREVAIL 6 which will answer the many unknowns surrounding how one looks as well as how the body works, grows and responds to infection.

The community engagement and advocacy activities also took place in Lakpazee, St. Paul Bridge, Brewerville, SKD Sports complex and Sinkor communities among other areas. At all the forums, the SMC team provided information and education to survivors and their close contacts to understand the nature of the research before making conscious decisions to enroll in the PREVAIL studies including the vaccine and the genomic studies.

SMC discussants were, Dr. Jestina Doe-Anderson, Medical Affairs Scientists; Katy Cone and Barthalomew Wilson, SMC Co-Leads; Joseph Boye Cooper, Advocacy Lead; Amb. Juli Endee, Community Engagement Lead and Patrick Faley, Survivor Lead. They all highlighted the importance of PREVAIL in Liberia including human capacity and infrastructural development at PREVAIL and the Division of Biomedical and Public Health Research at NPHIL formerly LIBR in an audacious effort to raise the profile of Liberia’s public health system through clinical research.

In addition to community events, the PREVAIL Communications pillar held information and media exchange forums for health reporters and media editors and executives. The forums gave the journalists the opportunity to receive updates on the various PREVAIL studies, to become familiar with medical and health terminology, and to be reminded of the importance of fact-checking and accurate reporting.

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