The World Health Organization declared it’s ethical to use untested drugs and vaccines in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa although the tiny supply of one experimental treatment has been depleted and it could be many months until more is available.
The last of the drug is on its way to Liberia for two stricken doctors, according to a U.K.-based public relations firm representing Liberia. The U.S. company that makes it said the supply is now “exhausted.”
A Spanish missionary priest who died Tuesday in Madrid was the third person to receive the experimental treatment called ZMapp. Two U.S. aid workers who received it in recent weeks are said to be improving.
The outbreak has killed more than 1,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
There is no proven treatment or vaccine for Ebola; several are in early stages of development. ZMapp, made by Mapp Pharmaceuticals, is so new that it has never been tested in humans although an early version worked in some monkeys infected with Ebola. It’s aimed at boosting the immune system’s efforts to fight off Ebola.
“If there are drugs that can save lives — as animal studies have suggested — shouldn’t we use them to save lives?” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO, told a press conference Tuesday.
But it is “very important to not give false hope to anybody that Ebola can be treated now. This is absolutely not the case,” she added.
ZMapp is made in tobacco plants, and U.S. officials have estimated that only a modest amount could be produced in two or three months, unless some way to speed up production is found.
The U.N. health agency says 1,013 people have died so far in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa of the 1,848 suspected or confirmed cases recorded by authorities. The killer virus is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids like blood, diarrhea and vomit.