'Ethical' to use experimental drugs in Ebola fight: WHO panel

August 12, 2014

A panel of medical experts has determined it is ethical to provide experimental treatments to patients infected with the deadly Ebola virus, the World Health Organization said Tuesday as the global death toll topped 1,000.

"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's health agency said in a statement.

There is currently no available cure or vaccine for Ebola, and the WHO has declared the latest outbreak a global .

But the use of an experimental drug called ZMapp on two Americans and a Spanish priest infected with the virus while working in Africa has opened up an intense ethical debate.

The drug, which is in very short supply, has reportedly shown promising results in the two Americans, but the priest has died, the Spanish hospital where he was being treated said Tuesday.

US company Mapp Bioparmaceutical which makes the drug said Monday it had sent all its available supplies to west Africa.

Medical experts from around the world took part in WHO-hosted discussions Monday to draft guidelines for using non-authorised medicines in emergencies such as Ebola.

"Ethical criteria must guide the provision of such interventions," the panel found, stressing the need for "transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community."

The panel of experts also emphasised the "moral obligation to collect and share all data generated, including from treatments provided for 'compassionate use'," meaning access to an unapproved drug outside of a clinical trial.

The disease has infected 1,848 people and caused 1,013 deaths since early this year, according to latest figures from the WHO, which says it is worst outbreak since Ebola was discovered four decades ago.

The has until now been limited to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, all countries in west Africa where ill-equipped and fragile health systems are struggling to cope.

Explore further: Eight Chinese quarantined as panic grips Ebola-hit west Africa

Related Stories

WHO meets on experimental Ebola drug use (Update)

August 11, 2014

As the world scrambles to stem the rapid spread of the killer Ebola virus, the World Health Organization hosted a meeting on Monday to discuss the ethics of using experimental drugs.

Spanish Ebola patient gets experimental drug

August 11, 2014

Spain has imported a U.S.-made experimental Ebola drug to treat a Spanish missionary priest evacuated from Liberia last week after testing positive for the killer virus.

Recommended for you

Zika virus infection alters human and viral RNA

October 20, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. These modifications—chemical tags known as ...

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn's disease

October 19, 2016

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

October 19, 2016

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly—a ...

Scientists uncover new facets of Zika-related birth defects

October 17, 2016

In a study that could one day help eliminate the tragic birth defects caused by Zika virus, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have elucidated how the virus attacks the brains of newborns, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.