Britain is edging closer to trialing a vaccine to fight the deadly Ebola virus, with the first human volunteer to be injected with the shot next week.
The British trial is part of a series of safety tests of potential vaccines aimed at preventing infection with the virus, which has already killed more than 2,400 people in West Africa.
The trial will ultimately involve 60 people, and will be led by Professor Adrian Hill from Oxford University.
There are no details on the gender or age of the volunteer, who is scheduled to be injected on September 17 (local time).
The vaccine has been designed to specifically target the Zaire species of Ebola, which is the one circulating in the current West Africa epidemic.
This strain can have a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation.
The trial will test the vaccine on healthy volunteers with the goal of determining whether it is safe and whether it provokes a protective immune response.
Professor Hill is hoping to recruit 60 healthy individuals from in and around the university town of Oxford, aged 18 to 50, to take part.
He said there were no concerns that any of the subjects will catch Ebola, since the vaccine contains no infectious Ebola virus material.
The aim is to complete the tests by the end of the year, after which vaccines could be deployed on an emergency basis.
The vaccine’s developers say they plan to make up about 10,000 additional doses at the same time as the initial clinical trials, so if they are successful, the vaccine could be distributed immediately for an emergency immunisation program.
Liberian armed forces to help tackle Ebola crisis
The United States, meanwhile, has said it will train Liberia’s security forces to assist in isolation operations to tackle the Ebola epidemic.
The US government has already committed around $US100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.
US ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac said the United States would support Liberia through the epidemic and beyond.
“We’re going to be training the Liberian national police and the armed forces on how they can best support isolation operations and to provide security near hospitals, holding centres and treatment units,” Ms Malac said.
“We’re committed, as president Obama has said, to see this through to the end as well to address the lingering impact, especially on the economic side, that Liberia is expected to experience as the result of this outbreak.”
Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faced criticism after troops fired live rounds at a protest over a quarantine imposed in the ocean-front slum West Point. A 15-year-old boy was fatally shot.
Liberia, with 1,200 dead, has borne the brunt of the outbreak, and has run perilously short of space at the few Ebola treatment sites operating.
The international football federation (FIFA) said in a statement it was cooperating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to transform a large football stadium in the country’s capital, Monrovia, for use in the fight against the epidemic.
With the death toll from Ebola in West Africa rising sharply in the last week, the WHO said at least 500 foreign experts are needed.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has also called on wealthy nations to send military medical teams to West Africa to boost healthcare systems that have been completely swamped by the disease.
Cuba on Friday announced that it would deploy 165 medical personnel to Sierra Leone next month, the largest contingent of foreign doctors and nurses committed so far.
The US military said this week it will build a 25-bed, $US22 million field hospital in Liberia to care for health workers infected with the virus.
A Pentagon spokesman said it would be built by the US military and handed over to Liberians to run.
France has also said it would deploy 20 specialists in biological disasters to its former colony Guinea. Britain will also build and operate a 62-bed hospital in Sierra Leone.
MSF has said, however, the pledges by Western governments represent just a fraction of the beds required to cope with the disease.
It estimates that hundreds of additional beds are needed in Monrovia alone, where Ebola patients have been turned away from overflowing clinics.