Issue brief |

The urgent need for new tools to prevent, diagnose and treat Ebola: what needs to happen


As of 7 November 2014, there have been nearly 14,000 reported cases of Ebola virus disease in West Africa and nearly 5,000 deaths. The number of new cases is thought to currently double every three weeks. The Ebola outbreak is already a major humanitarian crisis; it is likely to turn into a disaster on a much larger scale if our collective response is not radically improved.

Frontline workers, including healthcare workers in Ebola treatment centres and other health facilities, are among the most vulnerable groups of people to potentially contract the disease. More than 230 healthcare workers in West Africa have died from Ebola since the start of the outbreak. If frontline workers continue to die from the disease, the response will be difficult to sustain at the current level, let alone grow to the scale needed.

Over the last few months, MSF has voiced the need for more teams and infrastructure to control Ebola. If 70% of patients with Ebola were hospitalised in appropriate isolation rooms, then the epidemic would be reduced, some studies suggest. Recent announcements by countries, including the US, Cuba, and South Africa, among others, to deploy more human resources and build more treatment centres need to become a reality as soon as possible. More countries need to follow these examples.  

In addition, new tools to diagnose, treat and prevent Ebola are urgently needed.  However, given that vaccines and treatments being developed for Ebola are still experimental – and as yet unapproved for use in humans – and given that the re-purposing of drugs approved for other diseases is still clinically untested, further clinical research to prove safety and efficacy is required.  There is broad agreement that research on the new tools should be conducted as a matter of priority in the affected countries, provided all international ethical standards are followed, so that any benefits are immediately derived by those most directly affected by the epidemic.  The deployment of additional resources in the affected countries is therefore also a prerequisite to conduct the clinical and operational research necessary in a manner that does not disrupt, but rather supports, existing treatment and control efforts.


  • New diagnostics for triage, new drugs to save more lives, and new vaccines to protect frontline workers and contain the outbreak
  • Getting prepared for testing in the field
  • TABLE: list of most advanced experimental Ebola products (not exhaustive)
  • Trials that maximise access
  • Market failure, public health disaster
  • Collaborative and non-exclusive research and development
  • Scale up production now, and prioritise access to populations in need
  • What needs to happen