• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 10:25pm
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 5:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 6:55pm

Why wasn't Ebola drug used earlier in Africa?

The world breathes a lot easier as Dr Kent Brantly's breathing improves. The American missionary worker, who contracted Ebola in Liberia, was sure he would die. He knew the symptoms too well - rashes, laboured breathing. He had seen too many die before him to get it wrong.

He hadn't heard of ZMapp. Neither had the world.

Frozen vials of ZMapp were flown from the US to Liberia, where Brantly and fellow health worker Nancy Writebol were administered the new drug. Both have since shown improvement.

ZMapp hasn't been tried on humans before and it's too early to say with certainty that it works. Still, after weeks of terrifying news of an unstoppable disease that has killed more people in four countries than severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) did in five continents, ZMapp gives hope.

But it also raises some uncomfortable questions. If there was an outside chance that this "secret serum" could work, why was it kept secret? Why hadn't it been tried on the nearly 900 Africans who have died of the disease? Why did two American health workers have to fall ill for it to be brought out of the freezer?

The latest outbreak of Ebola in West Africa began in February. ZMapp, The Washington Post tells us, was first identified as a drug candidate in January. Have we wasted time by sitting on the drug?

"The risk [of using ZMapp on the two health workers] was less than the potential benefit," a senior American health official told the paper. Could the same cost-benefit analysis have been done for African patients?

"Experts: Ebola Vaccine At Least 50 White People Away", read a recent headline in spoof paper The Onion. Many a true word is spoken in jest, but here the truth is far more complicated. "As doctors, trying an untested drug on patients is a very difficult choice since our first priority is to do no harm," says Doctors Without Borders (also called MSF), on the ethical and practical problems of testing a drug in the middle of an epidemic.

This is where we need to look at things afresh. If death is inevitable and an untested drug could be the way out, why not? What better place to run a clinical trial than during a deadly epidemic, and for what better reason?


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This article is now closed to comments

Another perspective:
What if the US used the experimental drugs on non-Americans earlier on and it was subsequently discovered that the drugs exacerbated the symptoms?
Maybe the author should familiarise himself with the proper drug approval procedures we follow in the west.
I can see the headlines if something would have gone wrong. 'Non-approved Ebola drug tested on poor Africans.'
For some people it is simply impossible to do it right. And I am not an advocate for the pharma industry here, because most of them are crooks.
Because money.
Or in other words, there's lots of starving people - what is the obligation on McDonalds to provide free food?
And the relevance with the article is??? Still drunk from the weekend I guess...
You should see a doctor or at least get a life
another one of theose typical third world country commentator stiring the pot for intellectual stimulation & confusing every ill-informed person. A Candidate Drug (CD) in the whole scientific process simply means it is ready to be trial tested. A CD protocol must passed all the relevant US FDA (EU & elsewhere) scrutiny to ensure it is SAFE to be tested on humans. The same hypocrites screaming at pharmaceutical & biotech companies for testing drugs in third world countries are now screaming at not testing this experimental Ebola drug in Africa !!! Incredulous. Stringent clinical trials are necessary to mitigate serious drug side effects which we have seen in the last 200 years of modern medicine. Can anyone remember the drug Thalimode? Rushing an Unapproved & Potentially Unsafe Drug with very few deliverable shots to treat poor & black Africans for "a feel good story" may set a regulatory precedent that kills or maims ten thousands of people worldwide with other new CDs.
Trying to use the rich-poor divide and racial divide to pontificate & score a few cheap points is Shameful ! I wish these high minded intellectuals would get their backsides off their high chairs to the Ebola epicenter in Africa & care for these patients, like scores of caring white (and coloured) healthcare people have.
Dai Muff
In the eyes of some, when pharmaceutical companies test experimental drugs in Africa, that's wrong. When they don't test experimental drugs in Africa, that's wrong too. I am against any such testing in other communities and, besides, there is no way to ensure compliance with drug regimens in ordinary patients there.
Perhaps the author has not fully apprised himself of the situation? The treatment was so experimental there were only two doses available and they had to be flown, frozen solid, from California to West Africa, then allowed to defrost at room temperature before being used! Difficult therefore to to try it 'on nearly 900 Africans who died of the disease'.
So less of the inherent racial rhetoric please!
After reading so many articles on the ebola outbreak I started to wonder if this current ebola epidemic was intentional--that someone or group released ebola in Liberia on purpose. My theory is based on the fact that American drug companies have an excellent motive...money. For years US drug companies had complained that it's not worth their time and effort to develop treatments and vaccines for viruses like ebola. Too few people contracted the disease and infections were geographically limited. Well, now ebola has spread to several countries, including the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos. With Americans scared to death that this disease will reach their shores government funding of pharmaceutical companies like Mapp will proceed full speed to develop and manufacture drugs that probably have already been tested and ascertained to be safe and effective. Of course people in the affected West African countries are too poor to pay for these expensive medicines, but somebody has to cover the bill. Who? The taxpayers of developed countries will pay the bill, of course! Americans, Europeans, members countries of the World Bank will all contribute to the cost of saving poor people's lives. In the end these executives at biotech firms win the lottery and go buy their dream home in Antigua. Just watch--the two Americans with ebola will make a full recovery (this is advertising), ZMapp will be called a miracle drug, and these criminals will pocket a fortune.
Bayer Corporation and its Cutter Biological division selling containminated haemophilia products
In late 1984, when a Hong Kong distributor asked Cutter about the newer product, records show that Cutter asked the distributor to "use up stocks" of the old medicine before switching to its "safer, better" product.[3] Several months later, once haemophiliacs in Hong Kong began testing positive for HIV, some local doctors began to question whether Cutter was dumping "AIDS tainted" medicine into less-developed countries.[3] Cutter denied the allegation, claiming that the unheated product posed "no severe hazard" and was in fact the "same fine product we have supplied for years."[3] By May 1985, when the Hong Kong distributor told of an impending medical emergency, asking for the newer product, Cutter replied that most of the new medicine was going to the US and Europe and there wasn't enough for Hong Kong, except for a small amount for the "most vocal patients."




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