There is evidence the numbers of dead and sickened by Ebola in West Africa may “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the World Health Organization has said.
The UN health agency yesterday said it was prepared for the crisis to continue for months. With more than 1,060 deaths and 1,975 sickened, the Ebola outbreak is already the deadliest ever.
Liberian officials faced a difficult choice yesterday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.
ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. A day later, no one had yet received the treatment, which officials said would go to three people.
The outbreak, which was first identified in March in Guinea and since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, has overwhelmed the already strained health systems in West Africa and raised questions about whether authorities are doing enough to respond.
There is no licensed treatment for Ebola, a virus transmitted by contact with bodily fluids, so doctors have turned to the limited supply of untested drugs to treat some cases.
The Liberian government had previously said two doctors would receive ZMapp, but it was unclear who else would. Information Minister Lewis Brown said yesterday it would probably be another health care worker.
These are the last known doses of ZMapp left. The San Diego-based company that developed it has said it will take months to build up even a modest supply.
The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving such untested drugs to the sick and of deciding who should get the drugs. So far, only two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp. The Americans are improving but it is unclear what role the drug has played. The Spaniard died within days.
Now Liberian officials are facing those questions. In this outbreak, over 50% of those sickened with Ebola have died, according to the UN health agency.