A panel of medical experts says it is ethical to use experimental treatments on patients infected with Ebola, the WHO has announced. Meanwhile, a Spanish priest has died despite being treated with an experimental serum.
"In the particular circumstances of this outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention," the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The panel comprised of medical experts from around the world, who took part in teleconference to work out draft guidelines for using non-authorized medicines in emergencies such as Ebola.
There is currently no cure or vaccine for the Ebola virus, which has claimed 1,013 lives and infected a further 1,848 people since the latest outbreak in March, according to UN figures.
But there is now use of an experimental drug called ZMapp, made by Californian firm Mapp Pharmaceuticals. The panel stressed the importance of ethical criteria that "must guide the provision of such interventions" and the "moral obligation to collect and share all data generated, including from treatments provided for 'compassionate use'," meaning access to an unapproved drug outside of a clinical trial.
Priest dies despite treatment
Shortly before the WHO's announcement, a 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest died of the Ebola virus in a Madrid hospital. Miguel Pajares, who contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia - one of the hardest hit countries in the current outbreak - was airlifted from Liberia on August 7. He had been working for an NGO in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
Pajares was one of only three people who have been treated with ZMapp. Two American missionary workers who fell ill with Ebola while working in Monrovia last month were also given the treatment after returning to the US.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a request by Liberia for ZMapp to be shipped the West African country.
Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown has told the Reuters news agency that Liberia will receive just enough of the drug to treat two infected doctors.
Brown said Liberia's Health Ministry had contacted Mapp Biopharmaceutical, and asked the FDA to quickly approve its export.
The doctors had consented in writing to the treatment, the minister told Reuters.
Ebola is a type of hemorrhagic fever that is often fatal. It is highly contagious, but not airborne. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.
ng/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)