December 21, 2014
WHO approves use of experimental drugs in Ebola outbreak
It is ethical to offer unproven drugs or vaccines to people infected or at risk in West Africa's deadly Ebola outbreak, a World Health Organisation panel of medical ethics experts ruled today, but cautioned supplies will be limited.
The panel said any provision of experimental Ebola medicines would require "informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community".
The drugs should also be properly tested in the best possible clinical trials, it said.
The West Africa Ebola virus epidemic - the world's largest and most deadly so far - has killed at least 1,013 of the more than 1,848 people it has infected in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The WHO has declared it an international health emergency.
"Ebola outbreaks can be contained using available interventions like early detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring, and adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control," the panel said. "However, a specific treatment or vaccine would be a potent asset to counter the virus."
The ethics panel met to discuss whether various experimental drugs and vaccines being developed for Ebola might be used in the outbreak, despite not having been fully tested or licensed.
"A number of interventions have been through the laboratory and animal study phases of development," it said in a statement issued by the WHO.
It said it was likely that so-called "first in man" trials - the first tests of a drug in humans - would be conducted over the next two to four months, but cautioned that even after that and if the trials proved successful, supplies would be limited.
"It is likely that the number of doses available for further study and/or deployment from end 2014 onwards will remain insufficient to meet demand," the statement said.
The ethics meeting was called after experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, made by US biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceutical, was given to two American health workers infected with Ebola in Liberia.