By Staff Reporter
Experimental drugs with unknown efficacy and side effects can be given to Ebola patients in west Africa, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
Following a meeting of ethical and medical experts at its Geneva headquarters, the WHO said “the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions . . . in the particular circumstances of this outbreak and provided certain conditions are met.”
The WHO also released figures showing the death toll from the west African Ebola epidemic – much the largest anywhere since the first recorded outbreak in 1976 – passing 1,000. Officially, 1,013 people have died and 1,848 been infected with the virus, though experts believe the real total is considerably higher.
The announcements in Geneva followed news from Monrovia that two doctors in Liberia are to receive infusions of an experimental Ebola drug. They will be the first Africans treated with ZMapp, which has been given with apparent success to two Americans infected with the virus in Liberia.
A statement from the Liberian presidency said doses of the serum, which is in very short supply, would be brought from the US later this week in response to a request by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to her American counterpart Barack Obama. Further doses would be provided by a World Health Organisation expert, it added.
Liberian information minister Lewis Brown told the BBC his government had no doubt that the experimental drugs were a risk worth taking. “Between choosing a risk and choosing dying, I am sure many would prefer to see that risk happen,” he told the BBC.
The WHO panel said the ethical requirements for using Ebola drugs “include transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community.”
In addition, the WHO said: “There is a moral obligation to collect and share all data generated, including from treatments provided for compassionate use (access to an unapproved drug outside of a clinical trial).” More details of the meeting may emerge on Tuesday afternoon when the WHO holds a news briefing in Geneva.
Meanwhile, it emerged on Tuesday that a Spanish missionary priest who was evacuated from Liberia last week after testing positive for Ebola has died. Miguel Pajares, 75, died in the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid. Spain’s health ministry obtained a dose of ZMapp over the weekend to treat him but it was not immediately clear whether he received the drug before his death.
ZMapp is a combination of three human antibodies against Ebola, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, a private company based in California, in collaboration with two other small companies and the US and Canadian governments. The tiny quantities available may have now have been exhausted because it is produced in genetically engineering tobacco plants which take time to grow