Tags: ebola | ethics | zmapp | world health organization

Ethics of Experimental Ebola Drugs: WHO to Discuss Implications at Panel

By    |   Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 11:31 AM

Ethicists from the World Health Organization will convene a panel next week to discuss the possibilities of the experimental Ebola drug called ZMapp, which appears to be aiding the recovery of two American health workers infected with the virus.

"We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine," said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director-general, according to ABC News. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is."

WHO has been helping coordinate the treatment of more than 1,700 persons infected with Ebola since February in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The virus frequently causes a fatal hemorrhagic fever, as well as a host of other symptoms, and there is no known vaccine or cure. The disease has claimed the lives of more than 930 people this year.

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Two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, were helping treat patients in Liberia when they contracted the disease three days apart last month. ZMapp was flown to the country in secret, and delivered to their bedsides. After receiving the drug last week, both showed improvement, and both have now been flown back to treatment centers in the U.S.

Mapp Pharmaceuticals, the maker of ZMapp, is a small, nine-person company based in San Diego, and many are desperate to know how much of its drug could be produced, and if it could have an impact on those infected. Others have pointed to two other companies whose drugs could make a difference: Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Vancouver and Profectus BioSciences of Tarrytown, New York.

WHO's panel will discuss the viability and potential distribution ethics of all three company's drugs next week.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said that there was much to be done while medical teams and scientists determine the course of action for the drugs, if any.

"We've got to let the science guide us, and I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful," said the president, according to Reuters. "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."

The Washington Post noted that the "optics" of giving ZMapp to two white Americans instead of Africans has already raised a number of questions for the WHO panel to discuss.

It noted that when it comes to experimental drugs, doctors like Brantly can give a high level of informed consent.

Conversely, "There are some groups of people who by definition are unable to give meaningful informed consent," it wrote.

When it comes to Liberians, many of whom are distrustful of westerner and western doctors, it may or may not be ethical to give them ZMapp, even with permission.

"Can someone who is gravely ill and who has never heard of the concept of 'informed consent' really fully consider the implications of taking a drug like ZMapp? Could he or she feel coerced because foreign doctors are the ones asking for consent?" the Post asked.



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Ethicists from the World Health Organization will convene a panel next week to discuss the possibilities of the experimental Ebola drug called ZMapp, which appears to be aiding the recovery of two American health workers infected with the virus.
ebola, ethics, zmapp, world health organization
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2014-31-07
Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 11:31 AM
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