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Liberia to get experimental drug as Ebola toll tops 1,000

© Alain Grosclaude / AFP - Margaret Chan (L), Director-General of the World Health Organization

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-12

Liberia is set to receive sample doses of an experimental Ebola drug to treat two doctors infected by the deadly virus after the US government authorised the export of the treatment.

The two sick doctors will be the first Africans to receive the experimental drug amid growing anger over the fact that only Westerners have been allowed to receive the untested treatment so far.

The drug is made from antibodies grown inside tobacco plants, which are supposed to boost the immune system’s efforts to fight off Ebola.

The US government confirmed that it had put Liberian officials in touch with the maker of ZMapp, and referred additional questions to Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. In a statement, the California-based company said that in responding to a request from an unidentified West African country, it had run out of its supply of the treatment. It was unclear how much of the treatment would be sent to Liberia.

There is no Ebola vaccine or treatment available, but there are several in development besides ZMapp. That treatment is so new that it hasn’t been tested for safety or effectiveness in humans. And the company has said it would take months to produce even modest quantities.

In the past few weeks, the experimental drug was given to two American aid workers diagnosed with the disease while working at a hospital that treated Ebola patients. A Spanish priest who was given the treatment after his evacuation from Liberia died on Tuesday morning, a hospital spokesperson said. 

The Americans are said to be improving, but there’s no way to know whether the drug helped, or if they are getting better on their own, as others have. Around 40 percent of those infected with Ebola are surviving the current outbreak.

#GiveUsTheSerum

But some called for the untested drug to be given to Africans, too. The outbreak was first identified in March in Guinea, but it likely started months earlier. It has since spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, and possibly to Nigeria.

“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 could have negative side effects. But we have to try it in blacks too.”

Some are using Twitter to demand that the drug be made available.

“We can’t afford to be passive while many more die,” said Aisha Dabo, a Senegalese-Gambian journalist who was tweeting using the hashtag “GiveUsTheSerum” on Monday. “That’s why we raise our voice for the world to hear us.”

The ethical dilemmas involved prompted the UN health agency to consult Monday with ethicists, infectious disease experts, patient representatives and the Doctors Without Borders group. Most participants in the closed teleconference were from developed countries, but Uganda and Senegal were represented. The World Health Organization said it would discuss the results of the meeting at a press conference on Tuesday.

Late Monday, the World Health Organization said 1,013 people had died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Authorities have recorded 1,848 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease, the UN health agency said. The updated WHO tally includes figures from Aug. 7-9 when 52 more people died and 69 more were infected.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-08-12

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