Ebola emergency: WHO spotlight on experimental drugs

On Friday, it was disclosed that three persons in New Delhi are being kept under watch for possible Ebola symptoms

By Vani Manocha
Published: Saturday 09 August 2014

Community-based volunteers monitor Ebola situation in Africa (Photo: WHO/T. Jasarevic)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the deadliest till date, an international health emergency. Earlier, on Wednesday, the international health agency had announced that it would convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatment in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. So far, more than 930 people have died from the disease in West Africa this year.

The update was issued after hue and cry over treatment of two health workers from US non-profit, Samaritan’s Purse, with an experimental medicine. The Internet community had also raised questions about whether medicine that has never been tested or shown to be safe in people should be used in the outbreak. If yes, then to whom should it be administered?

“We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate [only one in 10 infected persons survive] without any proven treatment or vaccine,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at the WHO. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.”

Amid all the speculations over use of the medicine, known as Zmapp and produced with tobacco plants, WHO told Down To Earth via email that this was still an experimental drug that had not been tested on humans yet.

Meanwhile, on Friday, it was disclosed that three persons in New Delhi are being kept under watch for possible Ebola symptoms.

Blockade in Sierra Leone; Liberia declares emergency

While experts worldwide mull the use of experimental drugs and vaccines, the Ebola outbreak situation has worsened in West Africa. According to various news reports, the army on Thursday blockaded rural areas in Sierra Leone that have been hit by the deadly Ebola virus.

“The state of emergency allows Liberia's government to curtail civil rights and deploy troops and police to impose quarantines on badly affected communities as it tries to contain the epidemic, which has hit Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria,” said a Reuters report.

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