Ebola’s Spread Sparks Debate on Developmental Medicines

July 10, 2014, 9:29 a.m.

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.

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