Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Should Controversial Ebola Treatment Be Given to More Patients?

Ebola virus
Giving experimental treatments to patients infected with Ebola in West Africa is, indeed, the ethical thing to do, even though the risks and benefits of these treatments are unknown, a panel of experts has decided.

The panel, convened by the World Health Organization, assembled on Monday (Aug. 11) to discuss the ethics of using experimental treatments in the Ebola outbreak, which has killed at least 1,013 of the more than 1,800 people infected to date in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

"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," WHO said in a statement today (Aug. 12). 

One factor that prompted the WHO panel to meet was the news that two American health care workers and one Spanish priest had received an experimental Ebola drug called ZMapp, which had previously been tested only in animals, and is in limited supply. The priest died from Ebola today, according to news reports.

Experts stressed that, despite reports that the two American patients are doing well, this does not mean that the drug was helpful, nor does it indicate its possible harms.

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