Specialists are debating calls to employ developmental medicines against an Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa, the Canadian Press reports.
A number of analysts said distributing vaccines or drug treatments that are not fully tested may boost local distrust of officials that have been fighting the spread of Ebola hemorrhagic fever since March, the news agency reported on Wednesday. No fully vetted medicines currently exist for the disease, which as of Tuesday may have killed more than 500 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
According to some opponents of using such medicines, any adverse side effects may threaten years of efforts to develop the drugs as a defense against the potential biological-weapon agent.
"It would be unethical to roll [developmental medicines] out now, in my opinion," said David Heymann, a former World Health Organization assistant director general.
Officials could instead move, once the current threat subsides, to lay the groundwork for using such treatments to combat future outbreaks, Heymann argued. The World Health Organization could make such policy preparations in collaboration with drug developers and regional governments, he said.
One expert, though, pressed for immediately using Ebola countermeasures now in a late stage of development.
"Imagine if you take a region of Canada, America, Europe and you had 450 people dying of a viral hemorrhagic fever. It would just be unacceptable -- and it's unacceptable in West Africa," said Jeremy Farrar, a tropical medicine and global health specialist at Oxford University.