Support of Front-Line Workers in Ebola Crisis

Partnership objective

While these activities described were not formal partnerships, pharmaceutical companies rallied under the strategic guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) to contribute financially and with knowledge and expertise to support front-line health workers and counter the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016. 

On 8 April 2014, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On 8 April 2014, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Copyright EC/ECHO

What are the health needs and challenges?

Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The EVD case fatality rate of the 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak was around 50%; the average rate in past outbreaks has varied from 25% to 90%.

Since the discovery of the virus in 1976, random and contained outbreaks of Ebola, mainly in Central Africa, resulted in an average 250 cases and 40 deaths annually. From March 2014 to March 2016, West Africa experienced the largest Ebola outbreak in history, with more than 28,000 estimated cases and 11,000 fatalities. Previous EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests, but the recent outbreak in West Africa involved major urban as well as rural areas.

Beyond the personal tragedy for individuals and their families, the outbreak put a severe strain on health workers, health systems and the economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as a whole. On 8 April 2014, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola Outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). 

While Ebola is an extremely contagious disease, isolating sick patients and applying precautionary measures in healthcare settings — wearing gloves, gowns, and masks — helped stop the spread of the disease. Symptoms of Ebola can be confused for malaria, typhoid, cholera, the flu and other diseases. Therefore, accurate diagnosis is a problem without the appropriate diagnostic tools. Serious gaps in the physical health and sanitation infrastructure in affected countries as well as gaps in primary health services promulgated the spread of the disease. The longer the delay in referral to hospital for rehydration treatment, the lower the chance of survival.

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

Pharmaceutical companies were deeply concerned by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the devastating impact this outbreak had on those living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Several IFPMA pharmaceutical companies have been involved in efforts to develop Ebola vaccines. For more information on research and development activities of some of these companies, refer to profiles for GSK, J&J and MSD. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies made financial contributions to support organisations and health workers at the front-line of the crisis. As of mid-October, 2014:

  • GSK donated $690,000 in cash contributions for the three most affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These donations include $562,000 to Save the Children, a long-standing partner in the region, to scale up work with frontline healthcare workers to maintain the delivery of essential health services and tackle the outbreak of Ebola. GSK also made donations of $64,000 each to humanitarian partners, AmeriCares and Direct Relief to enable these organisations to purchase and deliver critical supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE). Alongside this, GSK significantly increased medicine donations, with donated GSK products worth more than $1,122,500 to partners AmeriCares and Project HOPE.

    As well as providing humanitarian support to affected regions, GSK accelerated the development of its candidate vaccine for Ebola at an unprecedented rate, with trials now underway.

    GSK fast tracked development of the Ebola vaccine with many organisations, including the National Institutes of Health in the USA, the WHO, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Government. Learning from this experience GSK closely monitored the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil.

    In January 2017 a new partnership launched to help develop new vaccines against emerging infectious diseases before they become global health emergencies – GSK is actively involved in The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). This partnership seeks to learn from experiences with the Ebola outbreak and find ways to stimulate, coordinate and fund the development of vaccines against epidemic threats.

  • Johnson & Johnson committed to a cash contribution of $1,000,000 to help advance health care worker safety and effectiveness in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, the company provided funds to Direct Relief, which provided emergency relief services in response to the outbreak, and to Partners in Health to provide community health worker training. In Guinea, Johnson & Johnson  funded AmeriCares and IntraHealth, while in Sierra Leone, the company funded AmeriCares and Direct Relief. The company  also provided funds to Project HOPE to focus efforts in support of infection control training regions in Liberia and Sierra Leone. To build long-term capacity for vaccine development and clinical trial evaluation in Sierra Leone, Johnson & Johnson continues to support efforts to train local staff and helped in partnership efforts to establish a vaccine depot, a research laboratory and an emergency room at the local hospital in the Kambia District of the country.

  • Novartis worked with local business operations in affected regions, committed about $1,000,000 to the Red Cross and matched amounts raised by a global donation program among employees. The donations helped Red Cross work on the ground in the most affected areas, including construction of a treatment center in Sierra Leone. Associates  contributed more than $160,000 to the effort initiated by Novartis’ chairman.

  • Bayer made medicines with a market value of $3.2 million available to Direct Relief free of charge to treat Ebola patients in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Bayer thus boosted its assistance in tackling the epidemic, having already provided immediate relief in the form of medicines and monetary donations worth $32,000 to Caritas international directly after the outbreak.
  • Pfizer and the Pfizer Foundation provided $525,000 in funding to help combat Ebola. Pfizer Inc. provided a $25,000 grant to Direct Relief to support transportation of medical supplies and $500,000 in grants from the Pfizer Foundation went to the following organizations supporting treatment and surveillance: Centers for Disease Control’s Global Disaster Response, International Medical Corps, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and Save the Children. 
    The Pfizer Foundation is a charitable organization established by Pfizer Inc. It is a separate legal entity from Pfizer Inc. with distinct legal restrictions.
  • AbbVie Foundation approved grants of $500,000 (Direct Relief International, AmeriCares, International Medical Corps, MAP, Partners in Health) to support Ebola response efforts on the ground in West Africa. Funding was used to help enable the immediate mobilization of resources including medical products and personal protective equipment to help stop the spread of this epidemic and address the urgent needs of healthcare workers and people affected by Ebola throughout the region.
  • AstraZeneca donated $403,000 through the British Red Cross Ebola Appeal to support the work local Red Cross agencies to contain and prevent further outbreaks in the countries worst hit by the Ebola outbreak. AZ also worked to screen a number of their compounds to explore their potential as treatments for Ebola.
  • Merck donated $313,150 to the German Red Cross to support local aid workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Lone. This money also went towards an enhanced treatment center of the International Red Cross in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, the German Red cross, with support of the German military, operated a treatment center for Ebola patients from mid-November.
  • MSD (known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the USA and Canada) partnered with the International Medical Corps to build, staff and provide training on effective Ebola isolation units and referral systems in Bong County’s Phebe and C.B. Dunbar Hospitals in Liberia. As of April 2016, a total of 180,589 patients, staff, visitors and caretakers have been successfully screened at Phebe and CB Dunbar hospital Screening and Referral Units (SRUs). In total, 49 patients were identified as meeting Ebola-suspect definition and referred to the Bong Ebola Treatment Unit for Ebola testing. Based on the success of the program, and with the support of and at the request of the Ministry of Health, and with co-funding support, International Medical Corps was able to expand its training and infrastructure efforts from the original two facilities to a total of 11 facilities across Bong, Margibi and Montserrado Counties in Liberia. International Medical Corps completed the transition of the temporary SRU structures to permanent structures at C.B. Dunbar and Phebe Hospital as of the end of April 2016.
  • In addition, MSD has made product donations through partners Direct Relief and their local NGO in Sierra Leone, the Wellbody Alliance. MSD has sent Medical Mission Packs through MAP International. MAP indicated that these mission packs have proven a useful mechanism to disburse donated products widely, especially in the Ebola-affected areas. In Liberia, MAP partnered with the Ministry of Health on distribution and in Sierra Leone, with Christian Relief Services. The value of the MSD products included in the packs is $523,400. MSD has also made a cash contribution to Direct Relief of $25,000 to support the transport of medical supplies to the region and $63,000 to Project Hope to conduct a Phase I assessment in Sierra Leone to determine specific strategy to stop the spread of the virus and prevent future outbreaks. 
  • Sanofi Foundation donated $128,000 via the Red Cross “Ready Fund”.
  • Lilly provided an unrestricted donation of $100,000 to two trusted organizations working on Ebola relief ($50,000 to Direct Relief International and $50,000 to Project HOPE). Both organizations worked to deliver the necessary supplies to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Direct Relief provided emergency shipments to partners, as well as emergency medical assistance, inLiberia andSierra Leone. Project Hope deployed a six-member team to Freetown, Sierra Leone to support the country in combating the Ebola outbreak. Lilly employees, along with a Lilly Foundation match through Global Giving, donated to date more than $30,000 to Ebola relief efforts. In addition, Lilly assessed the potential of any molecules currently in its pipeline that could help treat Ebola, indexing its viral library for potential treatments.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb donated $50,000 to the non-profits International Rescue Committee and Direct Relief in September 2014. BMS matched dollar donations that its employees in the United States and Puerto Rico made to non-profit disaster relief organizations responding to the epidemic.
  • Abbott and Abbott Fund provided more than $25,000 in product donations and funding support for organizations providing care and treatment on the ground in affected countries in West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Key partner organizations included AmeriCares, Direct Relief, Heart to Heart International and Partners In Health, and donated products included Abbott’s Point of Care i-STAT handheld diagnostics system and cartridges, as well as medicines and medical products.
  • Takeda made a donation to the Japanese Red Cross Society to support the International Red Cross emergency relief activities in West Africa. Takeda also donated in cash to the Ebola Response Fund (through the Wits Health Consortium (Pty) Limited, owned by the Witwatersrand University in South Africa) in order to train, support and send five qualified nurses to work at the South African field hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Diagnostics tools

  • Roche, under a worldwide exclusive agreement with TIB MOBIOL, distributed the LightMix Modular Ebola Virus Zaire Assay, optimized to run on Roche's LightCycler systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Roche's LightMix Ebola Zaire rRT-PCR Test for use on patients with signs and symptoms of Ebola Zaire virus infection. The diagnostic tool can generate results in three hours and allow for more rapid treatment of infected patients.
  • Janssen Diagnostics (a division of Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson), Biocartis NV (Biocartis), and the Belgium Institute of Tropical Medicine jointly developed the Idylla™ Ebola Virus Triage Test, which was granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2016. The diagnostic detects the presence of the Ebola Zaire virus in patients with signs and symptoms of Ebola virus disease. The Idylla™ Ebola Virus Triage delivers results within 100 minutes and requires minimal training to interpret the results.

*MSD is known as Merck & Co. in the USA and Canada

Partnership information

Company(ies) AstraZeneca , Bayer , Bristol-Myers Squibb , GlaxoSmithKline , IFPMA , Johnson & Johnson , Merck , MSD , Novartis , Pfizer , Roche

Partner(s) Abbott, AmeriCares, Direct Relief, International Rescue Committee (IRC), IntraHealth International, MAP International, Partners in Health (PIH), Project HOPE, Red Cross, Save the Children

Type of Partner(s) NGOs, Other Business

Therapeutic Focus Neglected Tropical Diseases

Disease(s) Ebola

Program Type(s) Availability of Treatment - Emergency Aid, Availability of Treatment - Financial Support, Availability of Treatment - Product Donations

Targeted Population(s) Children, Elderly, Health professionals, Men, Patients in needs of treatment, People with low income, Women

Region(s) Sub-Saharan Africa

Number of Countries 3

Country(ies) Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone

Start Date 2014

More information IFPMA on the Ebola Outbreak

Completed date 2017