News / Health

Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Carol Pearson

Without specific drugs or a vaccine for Ebola, the only thing doctors can do for those suffering from this disease is treat their symptoms and hope their bodies can fight the virus.  Ebola is killing at least half of those who get it.  So far, it has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people.

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa.  Zmapp, one of those drugs, have been given to six people: three Westerners and now, three African doctors.  One of the Westerners, a Catholic priest who was working in Liberia, has died.  Reports say the other five are improving.  It's still not known if the drug has helped.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that produced the drug, says all the available supplies are now exhausted.

Also available - about 1,000 doses of an experimental vaccine,  which may be used in West Africa.  Neither of these treatments has been tested on human beings.

In a Skype interview with VOA, Dr. Robert Klitzman, one of the co-founders of the Center for Bioethics at Columbia University in New York, said using these drugs raises ethical issues.  "Does it work? What should we tell people?  What if it makes people worse?  We want to make sure people understand that there are risks involved.  If we have a limited supply, we need to decide who should get the vaccine or medication and who should not."

Dr. Klitzman said in some sub-Saharan African languages, there's a word for "cure," but nothing that translates the word "experimental."  He says anyone who receives an experimental drug has to be told it might not cure them, and if it might make the situation worse.

Dr. Chandrakant Ruparelia is an infectious disease prevention expert at Jhpiego, an organization that trains health care workers in Liberia.  He said even if there were a large supply of these treatments, an untested drug has to be monitored. “That’s an experimental medication still," he said and that "It cannot be used on a large scale for every patient."

Dr. Klitzman says he agrees.  "We need to give it in a controlled way where we can see who got it, what happened, does it work, does it make them worse?"

Other vaccines and treatments are being developed, but are not likely to be used to treat Ebola patients, even in an experimental form, at least not for this unprecedented outbreak.


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Comment Sorting
by: raph from: cameroon
August 25, 2014 3:28 AM
Why not come back to God with fasting and prayer both Christians Muslims everyone included since I believe this ebola is not natural bcse its only God that will bring solution to this threat
may God help us

by: John
August 20, 2014 5:15 AM
Given the flourishing Boko Haram insurrection against polio vaccination, and the riots claiming that ebola doesn't exist or is produced by the whites, I do wonder how the Africans will react to being given these experimental drugs. My guess would be that they will blame the whites for experimenting on them, they will blame the whites for not having enough drugs to experiment on them all, they will blame the whites for those the drugs injure or kill, and, when a drug cures someone, they will blame the whites for not giving it to everyone sooner. Since they'll be getting the drugs for free, at least they can't blame the whites for making them pay.

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