Ebola virus: Obama says it is too early to send experimental drug to Africa as WHO considers if outbreak is 'global health emergency'

The experimental drug Zmapp has been used to treat two US aid workers

The US President Barack Obama has said it is too soon to send an experimental drug used to treat the deadly Ebola virus to West Africa, as experts meet to decide whether the outbreak warrants declaring a global health emergency.

Two US aid workers striken by the virus were administered ZMapp in Liberia ahead of their evacuation to America for treatment. Their condition appears to be improving, but it is unclear if the drug is directly responsible.

ZMapp is a drug made from antibodies produced in a lab that has never gone through human trials or been approved by the US’s FDA Food and Drug Administration. Producing ZMapp is also slow process as antibodies have to be produced on specially modified tobacco leaves.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest figures show 932 deaths across four countries have been blamed on the illness, with 1,711 reported cases. In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early on Wednesday in Jeddah, the Health Ministry announced.

Speaking at a news conference at the end of an African summit, the US President said he lacked enough information to give the green light on distributing the experimental treatment, insisting the world must "let the science guide us".

"I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful,” said Mr Obama.

"The Ebola virus both currently and in the past is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place."

He added: "We're focusing on the public health approach right now, but I will continue to seek information about what we're learning about these drugs going forward."

Mr Obama’s remarks came as the WHO convened a two-day meeting in Geneva to determine whether the epidemic constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to consider steps to help overstretched emergency organisations.

They will also ask medical experts to explore the use of experimental treatments for Ebola next week.

Meanwhile, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, Liberia deployed the army to implement controls and isolate severely affected communities, in an operation code-named "White Shield".

An electron micrograph of the Ebola virus An electron micrograph of the Ebola virus The Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also declared a state of emergency in the country, warning that Liberia needs "extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people".

Many hospitals and clinics have been forced to close across Liberia, often because health workers are afraid of contracting the virus or because of abuse by locals who think the disease is a government conspiracy.

"Ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease," President Sirleaf said in a statement.

READ MORE:
COMMENT: THEY'D FIND A CURE IF EBOLA CAME TO LONDON
SIERRA LEONE SUSPENDS FOOTBALL MATCHES AS OUTBREAK CONTINUES
ATLANTA HOSPITAL RECEIVES HATE MAIL FOR TREATING AID WORKERS
EBOLA OUTBREAK IS A 'THREAT' TO UK SAYS PHILIP HAMMOND

Nigeria’s Health Minister has said Ebola is now a national emergency after five more cases were confirmed in the country on Wednesday and a second person died of the disease.

Some major airlines, such as British Airways and Emirates, have halted flights to affected countries, while many expatriates are leaving, according to officials.

Ebola, a highly contagious haemorrhagic fever, kills more than half of the people who contract it. Victims suffer from fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and internal and external bleeding.

Additional reporting by agencies

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral