Monrovia - The Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia (PREVAIL) has received high marks for its ongoing research program in Liberia. During Community Engagement and other Social Mobilization and Communication (SMC) activities carried out in October in Margibi, Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, residents and other stakeholders hailed the Liberia-US Clinical Research Partnership for taking time to visit their various communities to spread the “good news,” which includes the benefits of PREVAIL activities for national and global public health.
The PREVAIL 1 Vaccine Study, which results were recently announced, made news as Liberians were upbeat about the prospects of contributing to research on a vaccine that may be used in the country in future Ebola outbreaks.
PREVAIL is the Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus in Liberia.
This is a joint Liberia-US clinical research program established in 2014 in response torequest by former Liberian Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale to then U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to assist Liberia develop vaccines and therapeutics to tackle Ebola.
October 2017 was a significant milestone for the vaccine study and as more and more people were reached through community engagements.
In early October, PREVAIL announced in a press release the results of the PREVAIL 1 Vaccine Study as published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
On October 26th, study Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Fatorma Bolay addressed a MICAT press briefing and said the results show that the two test vaccines, cAd3-EBOZ and rVSV-ZEBOV, pose no major safety concerns and can produce immune responses within one month after vaccination that last for at least one year.
Dr. Bolay noted that some participants who received the test vaccines had temporary mild to moderate side effects, including headaches, muscle pain, fever and fatigue.
These side effects varied from one person to another. But overall, no major safety concerns related to the vaccines were identified.
He said PREVAIL conducts collaborative biomedical research in accordance with best practices to advance science, strengthen health policy and practice, and improve the health of Liberians and people worldwide.
Dr. Bolay further said that people who received the vaccines have successfully developed durable antibody responses.
The trial, according the Liberian scientist, suggests that VSV Ebola vaccine could be used to save lives in any future epidemic as it shows better potential than the other vaccine tested.
Between February 2 and April 30, 2015, 1,500 men and women ages 18 and older were enrolled into the study at Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town in Monrovia.
People who enrolled in the study had no reported history of Ebola virus disease.
Also speaking at MICAT, Mr. Emmanuel Lassana, the first participant in the PREVAIL 1 Vaccine Study, shared his experiences with the local media.
“I was the first to take the vaccine on February 2, 2015 at a time when there were a lot of misconceptions about the vaccine.
But I took it anyhow to help Liberia develop the vaccines to cure the world. And as you can see I’m well and sound,” Mr. Emmanuel Lassana added.
Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in the outbreak in 2014-15.
Dr. Bolay said the PREVAIL 1 Vaccine Study results demonstrate that Liberia is poised to make a valuable contribution to global public health.
These results have generated excitement across various communities in Liberia, some of which were highly affected by the outbreak of Ebola.
Advocacy and Community Engagement activities focused on the ongoing follow-up Ebola Vaccine Study and the Genomics Study also took place in October across Montserrado, Margibi, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
More than 1,500 community members and key stakeholders have been directly reached with information about these studies being conducted by PREVAIL.
Communities visited included the Harmon Hill Community in Tubmanburg, Bomi County; Tire Shop Community at Redhill Field in Virginia just outside Monrovia; Wein Town Community in Paynesville; Unification City in Margibi County; and Sinje in Grand Cape Mount County.
The SMC Monitoring and Evaluation Lead, Dr. Khalipha Bility, is conducting surveys at these community events to find out how well the people understand and perceive the materials being presented about the studies.
At Bernard Farm, the residents welcomed information about the follow-up Ebola Vaccine Study, PREVAIL 5, especially as this was the SMC debut visit to the community.
Rev. Lassana Gebah and other residents said it is important for Liberians to enroll in this follow-up Vaccine Study.
Rev. Gebah was particularly pleased with the fact that the PREVAIL SMC hosted a community engagement event in their area to raise awareness.
Harmon Hill is one of the communities that was badly affected by the Ebola outbreak, and news of the results from the first vaccine study were received with great excitement by the residents during another engagement meeting there.
The study showed that the vaccine stimulated immune responses likely to be effective against the virus if one became infected.
An Elder Philip Swen said - “We lost about 30 persons in this community alone, so we are happy that the Liberian government and the American government are trying their best to find a vaccine for Ebola. We hope you people will keep up this awareness so that our sons and daughter will be encouraged to join the new vaccine study.”
PREVAIL SMC Community Engagement Partner, Liberia Crusaders for Peace, has been spearheading the messages in October intended to garner public participation in the various studies including the current Ebola Vaccine and Genomic Studies.
Speaking during a meeting in Unification City, Mr. Daniel Bumie of the Liberia Crusaders for Peace stressed the significance of community participation, noting that the research cannot be successful without study volunteers.
Bumie said the ongoing vaccine study is in the best interest of Liberia and it would require Liberians themselves to make the historic project work.
According to him, the success of PREVAIL has been largely due to the involvement of the community people and urged them to continue their cooperation.
Meanwhile the Principal Investigator of the Ebola Natural History Study, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, has underscored the crucial role of the media in scientific research.
Dr. Fallah attributes the success so far of PREVAIL to the important role the media continues to play in taking the key messages to the people.
He was speaking recently in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, during a one-day training workshop on health reporting for journalists in Western Liberia.
The program brought together reporters from Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and host Bomi County.
The training, according to LEIDOS Clinical Communications Manager for PREVAIL, Hassan Kiawu, was intended to enhance their understanding of science communication. The training highlighted the Genomics Study being conducted by PREVAIL.
Dr. Fallah said it was important for the reporters to understand the merits of the research so that they will communicate the right kind of messages to the local population.
The ongoing Ebola Vaccine Study, otherwise known as PREVAIL 5, is taking place at the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town, the venue of the first vaccine study conducted in 2015.
PREVAIL 5 is being jointly conducted by the PREVAC consortium in Liberia and Guinea under the auspices of the West African Regional Consortium.