Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Health workers wearing protective clothing and equipment against the deadly Ebola virus sit at the Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on Aug. 9, 2014. (MICHAEL DUFF/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Health workers wearing protective clothing and equipment against the deadly Ebola virus sit at the Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on Aug. 9, 2014. (MICHAEL DUFF/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ebola: Spain using experimental drug to treat priest as WHO debates treatment Add to ...

In a development that raises a host of ethical issues, Spain announced it had obtained a scarce U.S.-made experimental Ebola drug to treat a Spanish missionary priest infected with the killer virus.

So far the experimental drug ZMapp has been used to treat two infected Americans and a Spaniard but no Africans for a hemorrhagic disease that has been ravaging West Africa for months and has killed about 50 per cent of those it infects. That news came as medical experts debated the ethical questions surrounding experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines during a teleconference Monday organized by the UN health agency, which planned to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss the ethics meeting.

More Related to this Story

There is no known cure or licensed treatment for Ebola, which has killed more than 960 people in the current outbreak in West Africa. The World Health Organization has called the Ebola outbreak – which emerged in Guinea in March and has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – an international health emergency and urged nations worldwide to battle the disease.



(How does ZMapp work? Read more on the experimental treatment)

In a statement, the Spanish Health Ministry said the ZMapp drug was obtained in Geneva this weekend with permission from the company and brought to Madrid to treat Miguel Pajares. The 75-year-old priest was evacuated from Liberia and placed in isolation Thursday at Madrid’s Carlos III Hospital.

At least two countries in West Africa have expressed interest in the drug. Nigeria’s Health Minister said last week he had asked U.S. health officials about access to it but was told the manufacturer would have to agree. Guinea also said Monday it would like to have some of the drug.

ZMapp's maker, Mapp Pharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego, says on its website that “very little of the drug is currently available” and that it is co-operating with government agencies to increase production as quickly as possible.

“It certainly looks bad that only three Westerners have gotten the drug while most of the people with Ebola are African,” said Art Caplan, director of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. He said the drug maker must make its policy for distributing its treatment clear. Still, Caplan said there might be a reasonable explanation for why only Westerners were given the drug, including the need for a sophisticated medical centre to administer it and monitor the patient carefully since the drug hasn’t been tested in humans.

But some Africans said giving the experimental drug only to Westerners was patently unfair. “There’s no reason to try this medicine on sick white people and to ignore blacks,” said Marcel Guilavogui, a pharmacist in Conakry, Guinea. “We understand that it’s a drug that’s being tested for the first time and that could have negative side effects. But we have to try it in blacks too.”


Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, has 10 confirmed cases of Ebola, up from seven at the last count, and two patients have died, including the Liberian who brought the virus in, the Health Minister said on Monday.

All were people who had had direct contact with Patrick Sawyer, who collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport on July 25 and later died, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said. A nurse who had treated Sawyer without knowing what he had (and did not therefore wear protective gear) also died.

Nigeria on Friday declared a national emergency over the Ebola outbreak.

Sawyer has faced fierce criticism for traveling to Nigeria despite being ill and being under surveillance by Liberian authorities because his sister had died of Ebola. “It is unfortunate that one madman brought Ebola to us, but we have to contain it,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said on Monday. “As a government we promise we will do everything possible to contain Ebola.”


Ivory Coast, the economic powerhouse of French-speaking West Africa, on Monday banned air travellers from the three countries worst-hit by the Ebola outbreak and ordered its flagship carrier Air Cote d’Ivoire to cease flights to and from them.

“We have banned flights to and from countries touched by the virus, notably Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. These places will no longer be serviced by Air Cote d’Ivoire,” Transport Minister Gaoussou Toure said.

Mandatory temperature tests will be put in place at airports and new screening measures are planned at maritime entry points, the government said.

The main airport in the commercial capital Abidjan attracts more than two million passengers a year and is a major transit hub in a region where travel routes are rarely direct, raising the chances of Ebola contagion.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Health

In the know

Most popular videos »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular