Ebola outbreak: Two American doctors to be treated with trial drug ZMapp in West Africa

The medics will be treated with the experimental serum ZMapp, but the affected countries do not have the resources to combat the world’s worst outbreak of the disease

Health Correspondent

Experimental drugs never before tested in humans can be used to treat Ebola victims in West Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, as the death toll from the worst outbreak of the virus in history rose above 1,000.

The WHO’s decision, a reflection of the unprecedented scale of the crisis, means that an experimental serum, which has already been used on three Ebola patients – two Americans and a Spaniard – will be dispatched to affected countries. However, the US manufacturer said that its very limited stock of the drug had already run out, and that it would take months to develop more.

Liberia said it would be the first African country to receive the drug, known as ZMapp. However, it will only be used on two doctors who have given their consent. The manufacturer, a San Diego biopharmaceutical firm Mapp, said that a delivery to an unnamed West African country had exhausted its supply, which is thought to have amounted only to around 10 doses. There is no cure for Ebola, but some victims do survive.

The WHO’s ethics panel said that there was “a moral obligation” for health authorities to collect and share data on the effectiveness of experimental drugs deployed in the current outbreak.

Efforts to combat the disease with untested medicine could in effect become the biggest ever clinical trial of drugs to combat Ebola. The rarity of the disease, and the fact it has only ever affected poor African countries, means there is a paucity of clinical evidence on effective treatments.

 

Amid growing anger in West Africa that, until today, the only people to receive ZMapp have been Westerners, one WHO official said that shortage was a result of “market failure”. 

“It’s a market failure because this is typically a disease of poor people in poor countries and so there is no market,” said Marie-Paul Kieny, assistant director general of the WHO. 

As a result there are “no clinical stockpiles”, she said, calling on manufacturers and governments to “accelerate development and scale up” as quickly as possible.

However, the drug has had mixed success so far. Two American aid workers treated with it are said to be improving after being repatriated to the US. But a Spanish missionary priest, 75-year-old Father Miguel Pajares, who had been treated with ZMapp at a hospital in Madrid, has died, it was announced today.

Despite early media reports of a “miracle” drug, some experts are sceptical that the experimental treatment can play a major role in combating the outbreak. In a statement, released following a high-level meeting of infectious disease experts and ethicists, the WHO said that it remained the case that the Ebola outbreak could be contained by “available interventions like early detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring and adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control”.

Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who has died from Ebola, with a patient in Liberia Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who has died from Ebola, with a patient in Liberia (EPA)
The failure of the three countries worst hit by the outbreak – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – to slow the spread of Ebola is largely attributable to failure to implement such measures effectively.

In Liberia, ministers have said the healthcare system has been “overtaxed and overstretched” by Ebola, and all three countries have been forced to introduce extreme infection control measures. Guinea has shut its borders with its two Ebola-hit neighbours, while Sierra Leone and Liberia have both deployed the military to control movement from the worst-hit rural communities into urban centres.

Since the end of last month, when the virus spread to Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, headlines around the world have focused on the risk of the disease spreading beyond Africa, but Fr Pajares remains the only European person to die in the outbreak. In the meantime, the death toll in West Africa has continued to mount. The WHO said that the number of confirmed, probable or suspected cases had risen to 1,848, with 1,013 deaths – a mortality rate of 55 per cent.

Some aid agencies have been critical of the international response to a disease that has struck three countries with poorly developed healthcare systems. Médecins Sans Frontières has said that lives are being lost because of the slow response and the WHO has warned about shortages of even the most basic medical equipment required to stop the virus spreading to healthcare workers treating victims.

The outbreak, which began in Guinea, has been growing since February, but it is only in recent weeks that aid commitments have been stepped up. Last week the World Bank pledged £120m in emergency aid funding to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to contain the spread of Ebola and also to support communities hit economically by the outbreak.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Voices
Björt Ólafsdóttir is a member of Iceland's Bright Future party
voicesIceland's Björt Ólafsdóttir on her decision to take part in #FreeTheNipple
Life and Style
The Clove Club will charge customers when they book
food + drink
News
Lapping it up: a woman feeds felines at a cat café in Japan
newsThe vast majority of cat and dog 'wet foods' contain items not specified on the tin, study finds
Sport
Andros Townsend and Paul Merson
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat