A World Health Organization panel of medical ethics experts ruled on Tuesday that it is ethical to offer unproven drugs or vaccines as potential treatments or preventions in West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak.
Liberia said on Tuesday it would treat two infected doctors with the scarce experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, the first Africans to receive the treatment.
The United Nations health agency said provision of experimental Ebola drugs required “informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community.” The WHO said ZMapp's scarcity raised ethical questions of who should have priority.
WHO experts hope for improved supplies of experimental treatments and progress with a vaccine by the end of the year. That may come too late to put an end to the current epidemic, which is more likely to be stopped by standard infection control measures, but it offers hope for the next inevitable outbreak.
The death toll from the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola has climbed to 1,013 people, according to WHO figures on Monday.
EBOLA: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- What is the Ebola virus? A simple primer
- Where is the virus? View a distribution map of Ebola cases, 1976-2014
- The airline industry’s response: What precautions are airlines taking?
- Canada’s response: Read the Public Health Agency of Canada’s travel advisory
LIBERIA: DRUGS EXPECTED WITHIN NEXT 48 HOURS
Information Minister Lewis Brown said the Liberian government had received written consent from two doctors infected with Ebola – who he identified as Zukunis Ireland and Abraham Borbor – for the ZMapp treatment, which has not been fully tested in humans. He said the drug was expected to reach Liberia within the next 48 hours.
“The drug maker could not export ... the drug without the approval of the FDA so our authorities approached the FDA and received specific approval for the treatment of these two doctors,” Brown told Reuters by telephone.
A statement on the Liberian presidency’s website had earlier said U.S. President Barack Obama had approved export of ZMapp but the minister said this was incorrect. A spokesperson for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said U.S. authorities had simply assisted in connecting the Liberian government with the drug’s manufacturer and followed procedures for the export of pharmaceuticals.
The Liberian presidency statement said the head of the WHO, Margaret Chan, had authorized the dispatch of additional doses of the experimental drug to Liberia, but Minister Brown said it was not clear if this was true.
A WHO spokeswoman said supplies were “very scarce.”
“They have less than a dozen (doses) of it,” spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a briefing. “It is very important to discuss who should get it … and if it is ethical to use it.”
UNITED NATIONS: BAN PRESSES WORLD TO HELP EASE SHORTAGE OF DOCTORS
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is pressing the international community to urgently respond to a shortage of doctors, nurses and equipment to stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Ban said at a news conference Tuesday that a co-ordinated global response is essential, and announced that he has appointed UN public health expert David Nabarro to co-ordinate the world body’s effort to fight Ebola. Nabarro has led earlier UN efforts to combat infectious diseases, including SARS.
“We need to avoid panic and fear,” Ban said. “Ebola can be prevented.”
SPAIN: INFECTED PRIEST DIES
Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, 75, the first European infected by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, has died in hospital in Madrid, a spokeswoman for the city’s health authorities said on Tuesday.
The spokeswoman declined to say when Pajares, who was airlifted from Liberia on Aug. 7 after contracting the disease while working for a non-governmental organization, had died. The priest was being treated in the Carlos III hospital, where he had been in quarantine since his return from Africa, and the Health Ministry said he was being treated with ZMapp.
UNITED STATES: INFECTED MISSIONARY MAY RETURN TO LIBERIA, SON SAYS
A U.S. missionary being treated for Ebola and her quarantined husband could still return to Liberia after her recovery and his temporary isolation, their son said.
In an interview on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday, Jeremy Writebol said his parents, David and Nancy, still feel called to serve and could return to their Christian mission work in West Africa. “This is what they’ve been called to do and this is what they feel in their heart,” he said. “It won’t be an easy decision for them but I won’t be surprised,” he said of their potential return.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based couple were in Liberia along with other Christian missionaries helping to care for patients at a SIM USA hospital in Monrovia. Nancy Writebol returned last week and is being treated in isolation with ZMapp at Emory University’s hospital in Atlanta. A colleague of Writebol’s, Dr. Kent Brantly, also is being treated for Ebola at Emory. On Monday, their Christian group SIM USA said David Writebol was in temporary quarantine in North Carolina along with other missionaries.
Jeremy Writebol said he has been able to visit his mother twice a day through a glass partition and that doctors are cautiously optimistic about her recovery, although there may be some lingering effects.
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