Bioethicists urge that experimental Ebola drugs be distributed fairly and tested ethically

Sept. 8, 2014

Researchers and health authorities must ensure that experimental drugs to treat Ebola are distributed fairly and in the context of randomized controlled trials, according to a Viewpoint article recently published in The Lancet. Bioethicists Ezekiel Emanuel, PhD, and Annette Rid, MD, outline critical ethical principles which, they say, should be adhered to if experimental drugs are deployed in response to the Ebola outbreak.

Emanuel and Rid state that the patients selected to receive such drugs must not be limited to well-off or well-connected patients—including healthcare professionals. They also point out that, given the limited supply of experimental drugs and their low probability of success, containment of the epidemic and strengthening health systems in affected regions should be priorities.

Moreover, they assert that it is vital that experimental drugs are provided to patients as part of randomized controlled trials in collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders, and that any communities who participate in research trials must receive fair benefits, such as access to successful treatments.

According to Rid, “Less than less than 10% of candidate drugs make it from pre-clinical selection to commercial launch. In other words, it is more likely than not that the interventions will not improve symptoms for patients and might even weaken them as they battle a life-threatening disease. Experimental Ebola treatments or vaccines should only be deployed in clinical trials, and if trials are done, they must meet ethical principles for research.”

Emanuel adds, “Now that the global response to the Ebola outbreak is picking up, the international community needs more focus on strengthening health systems and infrastructure and less on experimental treatments. Adoption of infection containment measures is the most effective way to curb this epidemic and prevent future ones.” Read the Lancet article.

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