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WHO: Use Ebola survivors' blood to treat patients

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Marie-Paule Kieny


Desperate to restore hope amid the Ebola crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last Friday it would accelerate the use of experimental treatments and vaccines to contain the expanding epidemic in West Africa.

After convening a two-day meeting of more than 200 experts to figure out which experimental Ebola treatments should be used first, the WHO said survivor's blood could be used immediately, tapping into the thousands of people who have survived the virus which has about a 50 per cent death rate and no licensed treatments.

Changing perception

"We have to change the sense that there is no hope," said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, a WHO assistant director-general, said during a press conference in Geneva last Friday. The evidence for whether blood from survivors can help Ebola patients is mixed.

Kieny said the expert panel also identified two promising Ebola vaccines and that early results from safety tests - which have started in the United States would be available in November. If promising, Kieny said production could then be ramped up and health workers in West Africa could be given the vaccine to test its effectiveness.

"This is absolutely unprecedented," Kieny said of the willingness of experts, manufacturers and regulatory bodies to clear safety and bureaucratic hurdles so quickly.

She said there wasn't enough evidence on the drug ZMapp to know if it works, but that there are "encouraging signs". ZMapp has so far been used in seven people, of whom two died. Kieny said the drug would be tested when more supplies are available; its manufacturer said its supplies are exhausted.