UN-Approved Experimental Ebola Drug May Be Offered To West Africa Victims

Following an ethics committee meeting in Geneva on Monday, the World Health Organization approved an experimental Ebola drug for patients affected by the West Africa outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people. The United Nations agency said in a statement on Tuesday that although the drugs — which may include the U.S.-made ZMapp — are untested, the nature of this widespread public health crisis calls for drastic measures.

The health agency said in a statement on its website:

Over the past decade, research efforts have been invested into developing drugs and vaccines for Ebola virus disease. Some of these have shown promising results in the laboratory, but they have not yet been evaluated for safety and efficacy in human beings. The large number of people affected by the 2014 West Africa outbreak, and the high case-fatality rate, have prompted calls to use investigational medical interventions to try to save the lives of patients and to curb the epidemic.... 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.

But to use these experimental drugs, doctors and health-care workers must follow "ethical criteria," which the World Health Organization describes as "transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality [and] respect for the person." The agency added that health-care workers should also gather data when they administer the experimental drugs, so researchers can better understand the drugs' efficiency and safety.

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The 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak is the largest Ebola crisis since the deadly virus was first identified in 1976. According to WHO, 1,013 people have died from the virus, and nearly 2,000 cases have been confirmed in the West African nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria.

One of outbreak's latest casualties is Father Miguel Pajares, a Spanish missionary priest who contracted the virus while treating patients at a hospital in Liberia. The 75-year-old was flown to Madrid, where he received specialized treatment.

According to the Associated Press, Father Pajares was given a dose of the experimental drug ZMapp, which the Madrid hospital obtained from the United States. The priest was only the third person to be given a dose of the experimental Ebola drug; American relief workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who are currently being treated for Ebola in Atlanta, were the first two people to receive the drug.