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Officials to decide which patients get Ebola drug

Published:Friday | August 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Liberian policemen (right) dressed in riot gear disperse a crowd of people that blocked a main road after the body of someone suspected of dying from the Ebola virus was not removed by health workers in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, yesterday. - AP


Liberian officials faced an excruciating choice yesterday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.

ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said three or four people would begin getting it yesterday. The government had previously said two doctors would receive the treatment, but it was unclear who else would.

These are the last known doses of ZMapp left in the world. The San Diego-based company that developed it has said it will take months to build up even a modest supply.

1,060 KILLED

The Ebola outbreak that was first detected in March in Guinea and spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has killed more than 1,060 of the 1,975 people made ill by it, according to the World Health Organization.

The outbreak has overwhelmed the already strained health systems in West Africa and sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving drugs that have not yet been tested for safety or efficacy to the sick, and over whom should get the drugs. So far, only two Americans and one Spaniard have received it. The Americans are improving, but it is unclear what role the drug has played. The Spaniard died.

Doctors Without Borders, which is running many of the Ebola treatment centres and whose staff have tussled with whether to provide ZMapp, said such choices present "an impossible dilemma."

Now Liberian officials are facing those questions.