Via The Globe and Mail: The ethics of Ebola: ‘An opportunity to right a wrong of history’. Click through for the full report and a video. Excerpt:
For most of the 38 years since its discovery, the story of Ebola has been a story of neglect and failure: a disease of impoverished Africans in obscure countries, of little interest to drug companies, ignored by almost every government.
Today, with an Ebola outbreak raging out of control and even Western citizens dying, global researchers are rushing to catch up to the crisis – even if it means breaking the normal rules for testing and approving new drugs.
A panel of medical ethicists and other experts, hastily convened by the World Health Organization, announced on Tuesday that it was ethical for experimental drugs to be given to those who have fallen ill during the worst outbreak of Ebola in history, as long as certain conditions are met.
The decision to allow “compassionate use” of unlicensed drugs is a response to a global storm of outrage over the apparent unfairness of giving an unproven drug treatment to two American missionaries who were infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia, while Africans had no access to those same drugs.
The two Americans, now in an Atlanta hospital, have dramatically improved since they began receiving the experimental drug treatment, known as ZMapp, officials say. Yet many scientists view the issue as a moral conundrum, since the broader use of unproven drugs could see Africans used as guinea pigs for potentially risky or worthless treatments with unknown side-effects.
A sense of historical injustice weighed heavily on the ethicists, including a Canadian professor, as they debated the issue. “The fact that there is currently no registered drug for Ebola is a market failure,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It’s a market failure because this is typically a disease of poor people in poor countries, where there is no market. If it hadn’t been for the investment of a few governments in the development of these drugs, we would be nowhere.”
Allowing the use of unproven drugs for Ebola patients is “an opportunity to right a wrong of history,” Dr. Kieny said, quoting one member of the ethics panel. “It is only relatively recently, in the last decade, that researchers have begun investigating interventions for Ebola. Now is the time to catch up.”