Africans face long wait for unproven Ebola drug
In this photo provided by the Spanish Defense Ministry, aid workers and doctors transfer Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, from a plane to an ambulance as he leaves the Torrejon de Ardoz military airbase, near Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. A Spanish missionary priest who tested positive for the Ebola virus was in stable condition at a Madrid hospital on Thursday after being evacuated from Liberia, health officials said. (AP Photo/Spanish Defense Ministry)
A Liberian soldiers stops people at a security checkpoint setup to lamp down on people traveling due to the Ebola virus, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Soldiers clamped down on people trying to travel to Liberia's capital Thursday from rural areas hard-hit by the Ebola virus hours after the president declared a national state of emergency. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Children buy fried potatoes on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday Aug. 7, 2014. West Africans battling to contain the spread of Ebola will have to wait for months until a potentially life-saving experimental drug used on two Americans infected with the dreaded disease could even be made, officials said. There's little of the experimental drug ZMapp available now, and even if it can be made in large quantities, its safety and effectiveness haven't been tested yet. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
An ambulance transporting Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, leaves the Military Air Base of Torrejon de Ardoz, near Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Pajares, confirmed as the first Spaniard to be infected by the current outbreak of the ebola virus, is one of the 1,711 reported cases to have been confirmed since March, when the most deadly wave of the condition began. The epidemic is also affecting Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with nearly 932 deaths reported so far. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
A Liberian soldier, left, mans a checkpoint to control the movement of people as authorities try to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Soldiers clamped down on people trying to travel to Liberia's capital Thursday from rural areas hard-hit by the Ebola virus hours after the president declared a national state of emergency. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
Beds for patients are seen inside a tent at the recently opened but unstaffed Ebola treatment center in the village of Lakka on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. While the Ebola virus outbreak has now reached four countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60 percent of the deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The outbreak that emerged in March has claimed at least 932 lives. (AP Photo/Michael Duff)
People walk past a billboard encouraging people suffering from symptoms linked to Ebola to present themselves at a health facility for treatment in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. While the Ebola virus outbreak has now reached four countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60 percent of the deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The outbreak that emerged in March has claimed at least 932 lives. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)
Africans seeking a drug to help contain the Ebola virus will have to wait months before a potentially life-saving experimental treatment used on two infected Americans is produced even in small amounts, officials said.
And there are no guarantees that the medication known as ZMapp would help curb the spread of the dreaded disease, which starts with a fever and body aches and sometimes progresses to serious bleeding. Supplies of the drug are limited. It has never been tested for safety or effectiveness in humans.
The health minister of Nigeria, one of the four countries where Ebola has broken out, told a news conference in his country that he had asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about access to the drug. A CDC spokesman said Wednesday “there are virtually no doses available.”
Some people in other affected countries questioned why the medicine has not been offered to infected Africans.
Anthony Kamara, a 27-year-old man riding a bicycle in Freetown, Sierra Leone, said “Americans are very selfish. They only care about the lives of themselves and no one else.”
He referred to ZMapp as “the miracle serum” that the U.S. has “refused to share with us to save African lives.”
The lack of wider availability “shows simply that white patients and black patients do not have the same value in the eyes of world medicine,” said Nouridine Sow, a sociology professor at the Universal Institute of Guinea.
But testing an unproven drug on a large population carries risks. Earlier this week, the CDC director emphasized that it’s impossible to know whether ZMapp helped the sick American aid workers.
“Until we do a study, we don’t know if it helps, if it hurts or if it doesn’t make any difference,” Tom Frieden told a health symposium in Kentucky.
The outbreak first emerged in Guinea and spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia before reaching Nigeria. Almost 1,000 people have died since March.
Some health experts fear that debate over extremely limited supplies of the drug will distract from more tried-and-true practices – identifying, isolating and aggressively treating the sick.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said the drug manufacturer has told the U.S. government that it would take two to three months to produce just “a modest amount.”
“We don’t even know if it works,” he stressed.