Use of untested drugs to treat Ebola ethical

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Health workers wearing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) while treating patients with Ebola. (UNifeed video capture)

The World Health Organisation says it is ethical to offer untested drugs to patients infected with the Ebola virus.

WHO says the large number of people affected by the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and the high death rate have prompted calls to use untested medical interventions to try to save the lives of patients and to curb the epidemic.

A team of medical experts who have been meeting in Geneva however recommended that certain ethical criteria including, obtaining informed consent from patients and families, freedom of choice, confidentiality and involvement of the community must be applied before administering any untested medical interventions.

The recommendations follows the recent treatment of two health workers, who were infected with the Ebola virus were treated with an experimental medicine.

There is a limited supply of the drug and questions have been raised about who should receive the treatment.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, is an Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization

"The fact that there is currently no registered drug for Ebola is a market failure. A market failure because this is typically a disease of poor people in poor countries where there is no market. There are some potential therapies and vaccines which look promising, but which have not yet been tested or if they have not thoroughly in clinical trials. Some of these have already been used, others are currently considered for compassionate use. Because we know so little about safety and efficacy in humans, whenever these treatments are provided for what we call compassionate use, then there is a moral obligation to collect and share all data generated. One of the panelist pointed out that this is an opportunity to right a wrong of history."

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed over 1,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’55″

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