There have been recent news reports stating that the 2 Americans infected with Ebola who were transported back to America for treatment, were given an untested (in humans) Ebola drug, ZMAPP.
Now for me this begs the question, why is the FDA allowing for the use of untested drugs to treat Ebola? Not only ZMAPP but the FDA also lifted their hold (which was put into place because of safety concerns) on another experimental Ebola drug, TKM-Ebola, manufactured by a Canadian company. And how ethical is it to provide drugs that have been previously untested in humans to people who have a 60% chance of dying from their Ebola infection? Doesn’t seem like there’d be much informed consent happening since these people were most likely willing to try anything to stay alive.
Now word has come out that the company manufacturing ZMAPP, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. in San Diego, has provided a dose to Spain in an effort to treat a priest infected with Ebola who had been evacuated from Liberia. And the WHO has decided that using untested drugs and vaccines to treat Ebola infected individuals is ethical during the outbreak.
The ethicist in me has to ask: who decides who gets the limited supply of drugs that may or may not work against current Ebola infection? Should it be all health workers, NGO workers, government workers? Who qualifies for the potentially increased chance of staying alive? And if we start providing this medication to certain organizations for use or specified distribution, what does that do to the safety of those workers/organizations when word gets out that they have these drugs? And what does that do to the credibility of the international aid efforts when we are essentially choosing who lives and dies?
All of these are hard questions to answer and there is no easy solution.