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WHO approves use of untested drugs to fight Ebola, but supply may be running out

August 12, 2014 at 6:07 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The size of this Ebola outbreak, and its spread, is challenging public health workers and governments as the disease never has before. Health officials are warning its toll will continue to get worse for now. And researchers and doctors are grappling with how they can get a better handle on an urgent problem.

It’s a desperate measure for a desperate time. As the outbreak spreads, an ethics panel of the World Health Organization today officially approved using untested drugs to fight the disease. Speaking in Geneva, the group’s assistant director general says the decision was unanimous, but with caveats.

MARIE-PAULE KIENY, Assistant Director-General, World Health Organization: These include transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for person, and preservation of dignity, and with the involvement of the community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The decision came as the number of Ebola deaths reached 1,013, out of 1,848 confirmed cases. Most have been in three countries, Guinea, where the illness was first detected, as well as Liberia and Sierra Leone. And officials in Nigeria now say 10 cases of Ebola have been confirmed there in the sprawling city of Lagos.

Two American aid workers, recently flown back to Atlanta from Liberia, received the experimental U.S.-made drug ZMapp. Doctors say they have shown signs of improvement. But in Spain today came word that a priest who was given ZMapp has died. Officials in Liberia announced they have been promised a shipment of ZMapp later this week.

But that may be the last of the medicine for some time to come. The Wall Street Journal reported today the drugmaker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, has now distributed all of the doses it had. That leaves as apparently the only option for officials throughout West Africa stepping up awareness campaigns and screening measures to quarantine the virus.

Several states, Ivory coast, Gambia and Zambia, have now banned all flights from Ebola-infected countries.