Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Progress of the Vaccines

Back in January, I wrote a blog post about the on-going vaccine trials that were providing hopeful signs to find a permanent preventative drug against Ebola. We can all agree that this is the most permanent way for the global community to prevent another outbreak of this virus. As Ebola recedes, and Liberia is declared free from the virus, how have those vaccine trials that we laid so much hope and financial capital in ended up? According to the WHO, not as well as we had hoped.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said in a news briefing in Geneva: "The best news is we are going to zero cases, there is absolutely no doubt about that," she said.

“Two experimental Ebola vaccines - developed by GlaxoSmithKline and jointly by Merck and NewLink Genetics - being tested on volunteers may not yield sufficient data on efficacy as case numbers fall. It is not clear whether it will be possible to have even a hint of efficacy from these two vaccines," she said, noting that they already had been proven safe.

To have efficacy we must see if people are actually protected, as the number of cases is going down it is not clear whether there will be a strong robust answer to this question at the end of epidemic," Kieny said.

This is, fortunately, not the whole story. As you may remember, Bavarian Nordic, which struck a milestone deal with Johnson & Johnson in October for the development of their Ebola vaccine, was working on a 2-dose vaccination approach for Ebola using different vaccines for the first and second doses. This approach is known as heterologous prime-boost. The two vaccine candidates are known as Ad26-EBOV and MVA-EBOV. Bavarian Nordic, and Johnson & Johnson, have received a 50 million euro loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to help it develop a vaccine against Ebola.

This latter partnership has been collecting samples of the live virus in blood, urine and other bodily fluids in order to continue the testing. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of these drugs, it is highly unlikely that we will see human trials of these drugs until absolutely necessary. However, the continued investment by the EIB shows a determined and long-term approach to creating a useable vaccine.

The continued investment and prevalence of live virus samples will enable these companies to do what they can to make sure that we are better prepared for the unfortunate situation when Ebola arises. Let’s hope, for all of sub-Saharan Africa that Ebola doesn’t become a major issue in the future, but at least big Pharma will be in a position of knowledge, rather than chasing ghosts as they were this time around. If you would like to read the full update on all of the antivirals, you can do so from the WHO website here.

There are many lessons that can be learnt from this Ebola outbreak, and the speedy preparation of antivirals is a major one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Liberia declared Free from Ebola

Yesterday, Liberia became the first of the three countries at the centre of the Ebola outbreak to have been declared free from the virus, after 42 days of no new cases. In response to the WHO announcement, the government encouraged the country to have a day of celebration, as can be seen in the photos.

This is a truly landmark day for what has been the biggest outbreak of the virus ever. It’s important that we pay our respect to those that have suffered from the disease, and for those who have maintained their strength and composure in battling it. It’s a great day for Liberia, and we hope that the day will come for Sierra Leone very soon.

Unfortunately, that day is not yet here. Schools are back, and the reports are that attendance is picking up from their initial low numbers. At EducAid we were at 80% on our first day, and numbers have been steadily rising since. It’s been an incredibly busy time at EducAid, so we want to say thank you to all of the staff that have made this first few weeks as smooth as it has been.

Today, an Italian nurse operating in Sierra Leone has been confirmed - a severe warning that those still in the firing line of Ebola are still severely at risk.

On a positive note, numbers of new cases have not increased since the schools have opened. This would suggest that, not only have the schools been well-prepared for their re-opening, but also that the general population have learnt the all-important lessons of combatting Ebola on a local level. Those showing symptoms of the virus are being reported quickly, enabling rapid and efficient treatment and quarantine by the Ebola teams still combatting the spread of the virus.

We should draw a lot of hope from the announcement in Liberia – if nothing else, we know that it can be done. The combined effort from the government and NGOs, as well as from the population itself, has enabled the country to eradicate this pervasive and destructive virus. 

Sierra Leone is in a different situation: geographically, it sat in the centre of the three affected countries, and that certainly impeded the efforts to slow the outbreak. For now, we must be patient. We must continue to be cautious, and we must continue to work against the spread of Ebola.

Onwards and upwards for Sierra Leone – our day will come soon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kabiru Mansaray: “There are others not as fortunate as us."

The Guardian website published a video last week covering some of the difficulties that Sierra Leonean students were facing when returning back to school. Fortunately, a student at EducAid highlighted just why our value-based fees our so important.

As is common throughout all national schools, students are required to pay school fees, buy school uniforms, and regularly contribute to the purchase of educational materials such as books and paper. This is not how we do things at EducAid. To be a student at one of our schools requires only three things: excellent behaviour; excellent attendance; and, excellent effort. Kabiru Mansaray, an EducAid student, very eloquently describes how disheartening it has been since preparations for his final year exams were interrupted by Ebola.

“Schools in Sierra Leone have been shut for almost a year because of the emergence of the Ebola disease. Education was difficult in Sierra Leone before, but now it is very tough. Ebola has affected all areas in this country, but most especially the educational area.

Many many children have lost their parents. We have issues with women’s education, and those who cannot afford to go to school. I can tell you the situation about education in Sierra Leone because I have gone through the experience of it being difficult. I was a young boy; I used to go out in to the street to do street trading. My mother could not afford to pay the school fees or school materials, but I am hoping to forge ahead with my education up to the University level. I was supposed to take the exam last year only to find that Ebola is in the country, and the government decided to postpone the exams. It was a bit discouraging for me after working very hard, and my exam has been postponed for a very long time; but currently I thank God for my current state because at this school we do not have to pay fees, but there are others that are not as fortunate as us.”

At EducAid, we actively strive against a culture of expectation and dependency. Our students know just how fortunate they are that we have such a generous and loyal community in the UK, and around the world, who contribute towards their education. Kabiru recognises this, and shows such empathy to those who are not able to return to school. He makes us very proud, and gives us the strength to continue doing what we’re doing.

Ebola has been an incredibly tough time for us all at EducAid. Kabiru is a shining example of how we can transform lives with our teaching methods, please consider helping us to get Sierra Leone back on the right path.

This video shows how important EducAid’s method of schooling is. Not only do we foster a genuine social responsibility in our students, we also provide them with top-quality education at a price that everyone can afford. Because we are an independent school, we are able to encourage those girls who may have become pregnant during their time away from school to return to us. Rather than allowing Ebola to destroy yet another life, we can give these young girls an opportunity to succeed.

Education is the key to success in Sierra Leone: more than just key skills, we teach a practical syllabus of equality and humanity – the most important lesson of all.

£15 will send a student to EducAid for a whole month – that’s a pizza and a bottle of wine for us, but one step towards a livelihood for them. Please give generously; we need your help more now than ever. Donate Here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Our trip to Resonate Connect

Wednesday night, a cracking team of EducAid trustees, staff, donors, and volunteers travelled to Manchester Cathedral to meet over 100 businessmen and women from all around the City. Resonate is a 3rd Sector recruitment company, and they had invited us all there to launch their new business-to-charity skills platform that would facilitate the private sector in engaging with social projects.

A Q&A session with Sir Howard Bernstein, the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council kicked off the evening, with the challenging questions marking the enthusiasm and engagement of the businesses present. We heard from the Sir Bernstein about his opinion of the crossover between business and charities – a matter close to his heart.

Next, we heard from Alex Swallow, CEO, about Resonate Connect, Resonate’s brand new platform for connecting businesses that want to engage in social and charitable causes by providing professional skills and knowledge.

In simple terms, this is a fantastic idea! So often, and as we have experienced in the past, small charities are overwhelmed with their primary focus of work, and so unwilling to waste valuable resources on things that seem periphery to the core mission, that it becomes counterproductive. Often, websites are overlooked, finances are difficult to manage, marketing and communications are rarely deployed, and internal administration procedures are messy and difficult to implement. These are challenges that all small charities face, and are things that require complex and professional skills not readily available to most. Resonate Connect is a platform to connect charities like these with employees of companies that can fill these gaps. If you or your business is looking for ways to contribute in an effective and efficient manner, you should certainly look in to the platform – check it out at

After that, 5 charities were given the opportunity to present our relevant organisations to the 100 or so business that were present. We heard from some great charities: Volition, Manchester Cathedral’s programme to get the unemployed back to work through volunteering projects; CALManchester, a charity rasing awareness and providing support to the victims of the biggest killer of men between 18 and 35, suicide; the Factory youth Zone, a youth facility helping disadvantaged young people in the Manchester area, and; 4Hub, A Social Enterprise that helps charities and social enterprises to be more successful and sustainable.

Each charity was asking for something different; EducAid was specifically asking businesses to sign up for Payroll Giving, an innovative way for employees to donate to charities in a time and tax efficient manner. Adrian Carr gave an engaging and inspiring presentation that really showed EducAid in it’s true light, and we found that people were extremely receptive.

We spent the evening chatting to potential businesses and employees about the possibility of signing them up! Everything crossed that we hear back from some of them!

All in all, it was a great night for Resonate and for EducAid. It’s fantastic to meet so many generous and active people in Manchester, and we think that it’s a great initiative to be involved in.

Thank you to Resonate and Manchester Cathedral for hosting us, and thank you to everyone who came and participated.