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WHO approves experimental Ebola drugs

Update: August, 13/2014 - 11:00

GENEVA — The World Health Organisation has authorised the use of experimental drugs to fight Ebola as the death toll topped 1,000 and a Spanish priest became the first European to succumb to the latest outbreak.

The declaration by the UN's health agency came after a US company that makes an experimental serum called ZMapp said on Tuesday it had sent all its available supplies to hard-hit west Africa.

"In the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention," WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny told reporters in Geneva, following a meeting of medical experts on the issue.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced plans to step up the global response to the outbreak, while urging governments to "avoid panic and fear" over an easily-preventable disease.

The epidemic, described as the worst since Ebola was first discovered four decades ago, has killed 1,013 people since early this year, the WHO said.

Cases have been limited to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which account for the bulk of victims, and Nigeria, where two people have died.

Terror has gripped the impoverished west African countries ravaged by the disease, with harrowing tales emerging of people being shunned by their villages as the virus fells those around them.

When AFP visited the Liberian village of Ballajah, some 150km from the capital Monrovia, 12-year-old Fatu Sherrif had been locked away with her mother's body without food and water for a week.

Her cries went unanswered as panicked residents fled the village when both her parents fell sick.

Fatu later died and her brother Barnie, 15, despite testing negative for Ebola, was left alone and hungry in an abandoned house.

"Nobody wants to come near me and they know – people told them that I don't have Ebola," he said.

Promising vaccines

Elderly Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, who became infected while helping patients in Liberia, died in a Madrid hospital on Tuesday, five days after being evacuated.

He had been treated with ZMapp, which failed to save him but has shown positive effects on two US aid workers also infected in Liberia.

There is currently no available cure or vaccine for Ebola, which the WHO has declared a global public health emergency, and the use of experimental drugs has stoked a fierce ethical debate.

Despite promising results for the ZMapp treatment, made by private US company Mapp Biopharmaceutical, it had only been tested previously on monkeys.

ZMapp is also in very short supply but the company said it had sent all available doses to west Africa free of charge after an outcry over its use on foreign aid workers.

"Any decision to use ZMapp must be made by the patients' medical team," it said, without revealing which nation received the doses, or how many were sent. Kieny said WHO had been told three doses were sent to Liberia.

Sierra Leone's health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis said the country had officially requested a shipment of the serum.

While the ZMapp stock has been exhausted for now, Kieny stressed there were other "potential therapies and vaccines ... considered very serious alternatives."— AFP

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