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Ebola Serum Politics - Pt 2: As African Medics Die of Ebola, There's A Debate Over Who Gets the Serum

Ebola Virus Outbreaks - Source: BBC
Source: BBC


By Sarah DiLorenzo and Maria Cheng
Doctors treating a leading Sierra Leone physician who became sick with Ebola considered giving him an experimental drug but feared it could trigger a dangerous immune response and did not administer it, Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday.

The revelation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective. Modupeh Cole was one of the top doctors working in the Ebola isolation ward in Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

Ebola has killed more than 1,000 people and sickened nearly 2,000 in the current West African outbreak that has also hit Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. Many of the dead are health workers, who are often working with inadequate supplies and protection.

At the time the experimental treatment was being considered for Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, his immune system was already starting to produce antibodies suggesting he might recover, Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym, MSF, said in a statement Wednesday. Khan was also due to be transferred to a European hospital that would be more capable of handling any side effects that might arise with the experimental drug, it said.

In the end, the treating physicians decided igainst using the drug. They never told Khan of its existence because they felt it would be unethical to tell him of a treatment they might not use. Shortly after their decision, however, Khan's condition worsened, the statement said, and the company providing the medical evacuation decided not to transfer him. He died a few days later, on July 29.

[...]

The last known doses of ZMapp are arriving Wednesday in Liberia, where the government has said they will be given to two doctors. They would be the first Africans known to receive the treatment.

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