Early Release of Ebola Drugs Questioned by Ethicists

Early Release of Ebola Drugs Questioned by Ethicists
Early Release of Ebola Drugs Questioned by Ethicists

(HealthDay News) — As the number of dead in the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,000, many people are calling for the wider production and release of untested medicines that might help patients.

One such drug, called ZMapp, appeared to boost the recovery of two American aid workers stricken with the viral disease. ZMapp has proven effective in monkeys at fighting Ebola, but it has never been tested in humans. Waiving the usual requirements of waiting for the results of rigorous clinical trials may seem appealing -- particularly since the two American aid workers appear to have benefitted from the therapy. But have they really?

"The problem is you have no idea whether the medication worked or didn't work," Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, told HealthDay. "You can't know after treating only two people, with a disease like this." Also, allowing widespread access to an untested drug doesn't allow doctors to collect data in any meaningful way, he added. So experts will have little way of knowing if the medicine is working or not – or if it is safe.

Samuel Packer, MD, chair of the ethics committee at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY, told HealthDay that it is not clear whether spending millions to rush the manufacture of untested drugs is the best use of strained resources. The same money could be used to improve still-ragged quarantine efforts in West Africa, he suggested. Officials could buy gloves, masks, biohazard suits, and other quarantine supplies, and even pay to help educate more people there on proper quarantine procedures. "There's no glamor in it, but you talk to any person who knows this kind of stuff, and clearly [improvements in] public health have done more good than any drug ever developed," Packer said.

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