Doctors have no cure to offer the infected. Understaffed clinics must make do with isolating infected people, finding and quarantining their families, and educating the public on how to avoid spreading the disease. Although several vaccines and treatments for Ebola do exist, they are stalled in various stages of testing owing to a lack of funding and of international demand. Even if they did move forwards, it would be years rather than months before the measures would reach the people in need.
For researchers such as Heinz Feldmann, a virologist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) in Hamilton, Montana, the situation seems like it could have been avoided. In 2005, he published a vaccine platform based on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) that has since yielded an Ebola vaccine that is effective in macaques (T. W. Geisbert et al. PLoS Med. 2, e183; 2005). But money is not available to take the next step — testing the vaccine’s safety in healthy humans, says Feldmann. Compared with malaria or HIV, “Ebola is just not that much of a public-health problem worldwide”, he says, and consequently draws little interest from public or private funders.