Test Ebola treatments to be rushed to West Africa

Guest post by Nathan Seppa

In an extraordinary move, the World Health Organization plans to rush experimental Ebola vaccines and drugs to workers and patients in West Africa in the coming weeks and months. The move reflects a sense of urgency to get the epidemic there under control.

First on the agenda is immediate use of “convalescent serum,” an untested treatment that involves transfusion of blood from an Ebola survivor to a patient. Donors would first be tested for serious diseases such as HIV. Ebola survivors carry antibodies against the virus, but the value of a transfusion containing them is unknown.

Five to 10 experimental drugs that have shown success in animal tests could also go to West Africa for use in clinics there, skipping the usual safety tests in healthy people. “What is available will be used in the field to treat real patients as soon as possible,” WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny said at a briefing September 5. “There is absolute need to determine whether these molecules work or not,” she said. “This can happen only at the place where disease is present.” Effectiveness will be assessed along the way.

Finally, two vaccines against Ebola that worked well in monkeys are now getting tested in healthy human volunteers. If safe, they will be given to frontline health workers in the Ebola-affected region starting in November, Kieny said, an earlier timetable than WHO had suggested last month.

All transfusions, drugs and vaccines will be given only with consent of the recipient.

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