WHO supports use of experimental treatments for Ebola

Aug. 13, 2014

WHO supports use of experimental treatments for Ebola

In a statement released August 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the use of untested therapies against the Ebola hemorrhagic virus, declaring that utilizing such treatments is an ethical strategy to help patients who have been infected in West Africa in what is now by far the worst outbreak of Ebola since it was first identified in 1976. No vaccine has been developed to prevent the disease, nor are there any approved drugs in clinicians’ arsenal.

The WHO endorsement, released after the topic had been addressed by a panel of a dozen external advisors to the Geneva-based United Nations agency, was not an unqualified one; it stated that the use of experimental therapies must be linked with the criteria of informed consent, confidentiality, freedom of choice, preservation of dignity, and community involvement.

“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 WHO said.

“The panel identified areas that need more detailed analysis and discussion:

  • ethical ways to gather data while striving to provide optimal care under the prevailing circumstances;
  • ethical criteria to prioritize the use of unregistered experimental therapies and vaccines;
  • ethical criteria for achieving fair distribution in communities and among countries, in the face of a growing number of possible new interventions, none of which is likely to meet demand in the short term.

ZMapp, a monoclonal antibody treatment developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc., has been used to treat a Spanish priest and two American healthcare workers. The company has indicated that it has depleted its supply of the drug. Read the entire WHO statement.

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