Ebola: Glimmer of hope for West Africa

The WHO ruled that it’s ethical to offer unproven treatment to infected people.

FILE: The WHO ruled that it’s ethical to offer unproven treatment to people. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/WINNIPEG Manitoba - Leaders in West African countries say they see light at the end of the tunnel after the World Health Organisation (WHO) ruled that it is ethical to offer unproven treatment to people infected with Ebola.

A panel of experts from WHO says any provision of experimental Ebola medicines will require "informed consent, freedom of choice, and confidentiality".

The West Africa Ebola virus epidemic, the world's largest and deadliest so far, has claimed the lives of at least 1,013 people, of the more than 1,800 it has infected in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The WHO has declared it an international health emergency.

And although officials have warned supplies will be limited Liberia information minister, Lewis Brown says he has faith.

"I think this represents a glimmer of hope. We want to keep it like that because there's very little that we know about it, but there's a slim chance that one may recover," says Brown.


Canada will donate a small quantity of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in its government lab to the WHO for use in Africa, the country's health minister said on Tuesday.

The decision to donate the vaccine came after the WHO said on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer untested drugs to people infected by the virus.

The Canadian government will donate between 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine, with the final number given dependent on how much Canada holds back for research and clinical trials. The government will also keep a small supply in case it is needed domestically.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she offered the vaccine to Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO.

The US is also working on a vaccine and the WHO and governments involved were discussing possible use in Africa, Dr Greg Taylor, deputy chief public health officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Canadian announcement.

Canada only has about 1,500 animal doses of the vaccine, which it invented a few years ago, and would need four to six months to make a large quantity, he said. The government's vaccine is separate from the treatment being developed by Canada's Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.

"We see this as a global resource, something we need to put on the global table to say ... how can we make best use of this asset? "We're looking to do that as fast as we can," Taylor said, speaking from Ottawa.

The Canadian vaccine, which the agency licensed for commercialisation to US firm BioProtection Systems, a unit of Newlink Genetics, has proven effective in animals but has never been tested in humans, Taylor said.

The first doses in Africa would likely be available to health care workers, Taylor said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada was also involved in the development of ZMapp, an experimental Ebola treatment licensed by US firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical that has been used to treat two infected American aid workers. Liberia said on Tuesday it will get Mapp's drug to treat two doctors.

Additional information from Reuters