Thursday 30 October 2014

Untested Ebola drug use 'ethical'

Published 12/08/2014 | 05:20

A health worker examines patients for Ebola inside a screening tent at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone (AP)
Workers have their temperature taken before entering the Freeport commercial centre in Monrovia, Liberia (AP)

The World Health Organisation says it is ethical to use unproven Ebola drugs and vaccines in the outbreak in West Africa provided the right conditions are met.

The UN agency issued the statement after holding a teleconference with experts to discuss the issue.

In the biggest-ever outbreak of Ebola, two Americans have received an experimental Ebola treatment never tested in humans and two more treatments are reportedly on their way to treat two Liberia doctors.

The developments have raised ethical questions about whether it is right to use untested treatments in people sickened by a disease that has no licensed treatment.

WHO said people can ethically receive such treatments but sidestepped the questions of who should get the limited drugs and how that should be decided.

WHO says 1,013 people have died so far in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and authorities have recorded 1,848 suspected or confirmed cases. The killer virus was detected in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and possibly Nigeria.

The majority of Ebola victims are Africans, and some nations have protested that their citizens are not getting access to the experimental drugs.

A Spanish priest, 75-year-old Miguel Parajes, who was reportedly given an experimental treatment never tested in humans, has died in a Madrid hospital. The hospital would not confirm that he had been treated with the drug, but his order and Spain's Health Ministry said earlier that he would be.

"In the particular circumstances of this outbreak and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention," the UN said in a statement.

The panel said "more detailed analysis and discussion" are needed to decide how to achieve fair distribution in communities and among countries, since there is an extremely limited supply of the experimental drugs and vaccines.

Pajares had been helping to treat people with Ebola at the San Jose de Monrovia Hospital in Liberia when he became ill, and was evacuated to Spain. He worked for the San Juan de Dios hospital order, a Spain-based Catholic humanitarian group that runs hospitals around the world.

Meanwhile, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended all travel by executive branch officials for one month. She also ordered those already abroad to return home within a week "or be considered as abandoning their jobs", according to a statement from her press secretary.

Most airlines flying in and out of the Liberian capital of Monrovia have suspended flights amid the unprecedented health crisis.

Press Association

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