Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 December 2014
Tonight, as rumours of the death of Sierra Leone’s most popular and highly respected surgeon – Dr. Victor Willoughby makes the round across the world-wide web, news of the arrival of the much needed Convalescent Serum Therapy (CST) equipment was being overshadowed. (Photo: Dr. Willoughby. Courtesy of Awareness Times).
Ironically, it is through the efforts of Dr. Victor Willoughby and many others involved with the development of this untested, though promising CST project in Sierra Leone, that has led to today’s good news.
And it is understood that Dr. Victor Willoughby himself – now very ill with the Ebola virus at a state of the art treatment centre in Goderich, Freetown, may become one of the first – if not the first patient to undergo the CST trial in Sierra Leone.
But sources say that Dr. Willoughby is critically ill and that time is of the essence, if he is to benefit from the possible success of the CST trials.
Speaking yesterday about the CST equipment, Mr. Trevor Young, a Sierra Leonean resident in the United States, who is also one of the founding members of the Group formed to develop and manage the CST project – Sierra Leone Action, said this about the CST: “The study and treatment involves taking Ebola survivors’ blood and separating the plasma that contains Ebola antibodies. The blood is returned to the donor and the plasma collected and later transfused into an Ebola patient.”
Although there are serious concerns about the safety and clinical efficacy of CST, it seems the project has got the full backing of president Koroma.
Mr. Young said that; “Sierra Leone Action was formed in August upon heeding the clarion call from His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, for Sierra Leoneans throughout the diaspora to help eliminate Ebola in the country of our birth and origin.
“To address this, a study protocol has emerged to ensure that CST is introduced into Sierra Leone under stringent international guidelines. Based upon the feedback we have received from the Pharmacy Board of Sierra Leone, the Ethics Panel and the Ebola Convalescent Products Technical Group, we are confident we are moving forward.”
Mr. Young is one of two trainers that have arrived in Sierra Leone to begin the training of staff on the use of the machinery.
But will the training be completed on time for the therapy to be performed on one of its pioneers – Dr. Victor Willoughby, who is now very ill in hospital?
A statement published yesterday did not confirm whether Dr. Willoughby will undergo CST, but Mr. Young said: “We are grateful to the Government of Sierra Leone for their engagement, patience, and support, specifically the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, and his team. The donated machines and supplies will allow medical professionals to conduct a Convalescent Serum Therapy (CST) study and enable plasma treatment for the Ebola Virus Disease.”
With clinical governance, safety assurance and clinical protocol at the top of the agenda of skeptics of the CST project, Mr. Young said that; “Dr. Kargbo has set up a subcommittee in coordination with public advocacy group, WeCare SL, to help fast track the implementation of CST. We are extremely appreciative of the expressed support shown by WeCare SL. We look forward to working closely with them and the Government of Sierra Leone to implement the study and treatment, as a Sierra Leonean initiative proudly led by Sierra Leoneans.”
Sierra Leone Action (SLA), is an organization comprising of a global team of Sierra Leonean physicians and other professionals, with Dr. Foday Sahr – College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone; Dr. Victor R. Willoughby – College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone; and Dr. Sahr Gevao – Consultant Haematologist, Government of Sierra Leone – all involved with the CST project as Collaborating Research Physicians.
Members of Sierra Leone Action say that the Group was born out of a desire to improve the health outcome for ordinary Sierra Leoneans during this Ebola outbreak.
They also say that the Group has developed a coordinated approach to implement Convalescent Serum Therapy (CST), using international guidelines and best practices in Sierra Leone. The organization, which was formed in August 2014, is working closely with the Government of Sierra Leone and other partners to implement CST and carry out trials in Sierra Leone.
But tonight as Dr. Willoughby remains critically ill in hospital, will he become the first patient to survive Ebola as the result of the CST that he himself is pioneering?
As well wishers and family members of the doctor continue to pray for his survival, the question that must be asked is: How soon before he starts receiving the CST treatment, if at all?