The Oxford scientists had 15 days to visit eight potential sites, spread across three countries paralysed by economic collapse, and where travel was limited by curfews and quarantine laws. The team’s trial would not only aim to find a drug that worked against Ebola but also to establish a blueprint for the way drug trials would be run during outbreaks in the future.
Because the virus does not exist at low levels in any population, unless you run a properly conducted trial while the storm is raging, you will never have drugs that are proven to be effective.The scientists had flown to Guinea on 16 October to do something that had never been successfully done before set up a trial of experimental drugs against an infectious disease in the middle of an epidemic. The epidemic was constantly shifting shape: as the numbers dropped in one area, the rate of infection flared up somewhere else. When a person got infected, fever, muscle pain and headaches progressed quickly to vomiting, diarrhoea and then internal and external bleeding. This did not just apply to fighting Ebola: if the scientists were successful, their trial would develop protocols for testing drugs for any epidemic, be it Sars or flu. Safe and effective drugs for Ebola were desperately needed. Within six to 16 days up to 70% of those with the Ebola virus were dead.