Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
A trader wearing rubber gloves to avoid transmission of Ebola passes money to a client at the shop he works at in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Three leading experts on the Ebola virus said Wednesday that experimental drugs should be provided to Africa, and that if the deadly virus was rampant in Western countries it would be “highly likely” that authorities would give people access to the medications.(AP Photo/ Michael Duff)
Who gets experimental Ebola drug?

First Published Aug 06 2014 07:06 pm • Last Updated Aug 06 2014 07:06 pm

Washington • The use of an experimental drug to treat two Americans diagnosed with Ebola is raising ethical questions about who gets first access to unproven new therapies for the deadly disease. But some health experts fear debate over extremely limited doses will distract from tried-and-true measures to curb the growing outbreak — things like more rapidly identifying and isolating the sick.

The World Health Organization is convening a meeting of medical ethicists next week to examine what it calls "the responsible thing to do" about whatever supplies eventually may become available of a medicine that’s never been tested in people.

At a glance

Ebola gains toehold in Nigerian megacity

Abuja, Nigeria » Nigerian authorities rushed to obtain isolation tents Wednesday in anticipation of more Ebola infections as they disclosed five more cases of the virus and a death in Africa’s most populous nation, where officials were racing to keep the disease confined to a small group of patients.

The five new Nigerian cases were all in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in a country already beset with poor health care infrastructure and widespread corruption, and all five were reported to have had direct contact with one infected man.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization met to decide whether the crisis, the worst recorded outbreak of its kind, amounts to an international public health emergency. With 1,711 reported cases, at least 932 deaths in four countries have been blamed on the illness.

The declaration would be an acknowledgment that the situation is critical and could worsen without a fast global response.

The group did not immediately confirm the new cases reported in Nigeria. And Nigerian authorities did not release any details on the latest infections, except to say they all had come into direct contact with the sick man who arrived by plane in Lagos late last month.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

At least one country involved in the outbreak is interested in the drug. Nigeria’s health minister, Onyenbuchi Chukwu, said at a news conference that he had asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about access. CDC Director Tom Frieden "conveyed there are virtually no doses available" but that basic supportive care can work, a CDC spokesman said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama said Ebola is controllable and the U.S. and its allies are working to help overwhelmed public health systems in West Africa take the needed steps.

Asked about the experimental drug, Obama said all the information isn’t in: "We’ve got to let the science guide us."

There is no proven treatment or vaccine for Ebola, which so far has infected more than 1,700 people and killed more than 930 in West Africa in what has become the worst outbreak of this viral hemorrhagic fever.

"How many times have we found magic therapies that ended up ... doing more harm than good?" cautioned University of Minnesota professor Michael Osterholm, who advises the U.S. government on infectious disease threats.

"Vaccine and drug treatment right now is not going to be the main way you bring this to a stop," he added.

Scientists stress that there’s no way to tell if the experimental drug ZMapp really made a difference for two American aid workers infected while working in Liberia.

"We don’t even know if it works," stressed Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, which helped fund research that led to the drug’s development.


story continues below
story continues below

The drug is a cocktail of three antibodies engineered to recognize Ebola and bind to infected cells so that the immune system can kill them. People’s immune systems make antibodies to fight off various diseases, and attempts to cull those antibodies — from the blood of people who survive an illness, or from animals — date back to the 19th century and early diphtheria treatment. Using modern techniques to fight Ebola, scientists culled antibodies from laboratory mice, Fauci said, and ZMapp’s maker now grows the antibodies in tobacco plants and then purifies them.

Fauci said the manufacturer has told the government that it would take two to three months to produce even "a modest amount." So the NIH is exploring ways to ramp up production, necessary to attempt formal testing or to consider more so-called compassionate use.

"Everybody’s trying to speed things up," said Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

To help improve diagnosis in affected countries, the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized emergency use of an experimental blood test to detect Ebola. Early symptoms — fever, vomiting and diarrhea — can be confused with other illnesses. The test was developed by the Defense Department, and is only for use in DOD-designated laboratories.

This week, the WHO is convening an emergency committee to determine if the outbreak warrants being declared a "public health emergency of international concern," meaning it poses significant risk to other countries and requires more of an international response.

The WHO said that particularly in Liberia, health officials face community resistance from residents who fear going to the hospital and secretly care for ill loved ones at home, thus exposing themselves. Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of someone who is sick.

But health care workers have to recognize the virus, too. Authorities in Nigeria have acknowledged that they didn’t immediately suspect Ebola in the first known patient to travel to that country.

"The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health," said CDC’s Frieden said Wednesday: Finding and isolating patients, finding and educating who’s been in contact with them and strict hospital infection control.

"Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away," he said.

Minnesota’s Osterholm fears those tried-and-true methods could be overshadowed by misunderstanding about any availability of the experimental drug.

"If the Americans had this serum all the time, why didn’t they send it to us Africans to help save lives?" said Winston Ojukutu Macauley, a social commentator in Sierra Leone.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.