WHO outbreak expert Dr. Within a July 17-Eric Bertherat published to colleagues, 2014, email about misdiagnoses, and “total confusion” at the Sierra Leone authorities lab Metabiota distributed to Tulane University in the city of Kenema. Metabiota chief executive officer and creator Nathan Wolfe said there was no evidence his company was responsible for the laboratory blunders, that the reported squabbles were overblown and that any predictions made by his employees didn’t reveal the company’s position.
He said Metabiota doesn’t focus on outbreak response which his employees stepped directly into help and performed admirably amid the carnage of the world’s biggest-ever Ebola outbreak. Wolfe said some of the problems flagged were misunderstandings-and that others were planted by commercial rivals. The complaints about Metabiota mirror the wider mismanagement that hamstrung the world’s response to Ebola, a disease that has killed of 11 upward,000 people.
Previous AP reporting has shown that WHO resisted sounding the security alarm over Ebola for two months on political, religious, and financial grounds and failed to put together a decisive response even after the alert was issued. The turmoil that followed left health workers in Kenema bereft of protective equipment or even body bags and using expired chlorine, a crucial disinfectant.
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WHO said Metabiota was well-placed to help when Ebola broke out in West Africa due to its knowledge with Lassa, a related disease. The agency declined to provide any detail about how it dealt with the complaints from senior personnel about the company or the status of their current romantic relationship.
In Sierra Leone, Sylvia Blyden, who served as special executive assistant to the country’s leader in the first times of the outbreak, said Metabiota’s response was a disaster. Wolfe, a swashbuckling scientist described as the Indiana Jones of virology sometimes, has focused his company’s focus on disease hot spots like West Africa in a bid to sniff out the next big risk.
In his book, “The Viral Storm,” Wolfe creates that his work is aimed at searching for “the first occasions at the birth of a new pandemic” to avoid its global spread. Using a doctorate in immunology and infectious diseases from Harvard, Wolfe, 45, has found some serious backers. Metabiota and its own nonprofit sister company Global Viral have obtained millions in funding from USAID, Google, and the Skoll Foundation, among others. 18 million worthy of contracts to the company, federal records show. In the early a few months of the outbreak, with WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thin on the floor, Metabiota said it stepped directly into help at the demand of the Sierra Leonean government.
An account published to its website says Metabiota provided “critical support” in the earliest days of the outbreak, arranging training, jointly operating Sierra Leone’s Ebola lab, assisting with outbreak logistics, and producing daily reviews for the nationwide government. Messages saved to ProMed, an email list for outbreak watchers, are upbeat, describing Metabiota’s tests and how it was teaching Sierra Leoneans how to set up Ebola isolation wards.
But there were already reviews of suspected infections in the country and, within weeks, the Trojan tore through Sierra Leone, overwhelming the hospital in Kenema where Metabiota distributed the 700-square-foot (65-square-meter) laboratory with Tulane. For some at Tulane, which experienced a long-established research project at the laboratory, Metabiota’s missteps were predictable. The two groups proved helpful side-by-side within an uneasy romantic relationship that observers said sometimes tipped into open up conflict.
Tulane microbiology teacher Bob Garry questioned whether Gonzalez was the right person to teach Sierra Leoneans how to protect themselves from Ebola. In 1994, the French researcher was at the center of a safety scare at Yale University after he unintentionally contaminated himself with the uncommon Sabia virus and didn’t notify officials there for more than a week.
The university or college put more than 100 people under security and ordered Gonzalez to take a remedial safety course. Garry said that should have raised a red flag. Gonzalez referred questions to a Metabiota press consultant, who said in an email that the incident happened more than 20 years ago which Gonzalez has intensive lab security experience.