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August 13, 2014

Experimental Ebola drug raises hopes, ethical questions


The World Health Organization has approved an experimental drug to treat the largest-ever outbreak of Ebola, but doses are running out.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the drugmaker which produced ZMapp to treat Ebola, has distributed all its available doses, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ZMapp has never been clinically tested, according to Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. One American who contracted Ebola recovered after taking the drug, but health officials do not know for certain if the drug made a difference.

Officials in Spain reported that a priest who was infected with Ebola and received ZMapp died yesterday.

Two Americans who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa arrived in Atlanta for treatment last week and received ZMapp. Both are health care workers and knew the risks of using an untested drug, Dr. Robert Garry, a virologist and professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, said.

It could be risky to introduce an experimental drug in the areas that the outbreak has affected, Garrett said. A lack of education about the drug could add to distrust in communities and threaten health care workers’ physical safety, Garrett said.

More than 1,800 cases of Ebola have been confirmed so far, and of these, 1,013 of Ebola victims have died. The majority of cases have occurred in the African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Officials have also confirmed 10 cases in Lagos.

Warm up questions
  1. What is Ebola?
  2. Where are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia?
  3. How are new medicines developed? How are they tested? How do doctors know if new medicine works and if it is safe?
Discussion questions
  1. Why is it important to consider ethics in the practice of medicine? What are your rights as a patient?
  2. What are the risks and benefits of using an experimental drug? If you or someone in your family had Ebola or another disease with no known cure, would you use it?
  3. There is only a limited supply of the experimental drug ZMapp and the company is quickly running out. It is not yet been proven to cure Ebola, but is the best treatment available at this time. Imagine that you are responsible for distributing ZMapp to those who are infected, but there is not enough to give to everyone. How would you decide who receives the medication and who doesn’t?
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